Penn State’s Antonio Shelton uses his voice to support and defend teammates
The outspoken Shelton was suspended for one game Tuesday after he was ejected from the Michigan State game. He appeared to spit in the direction of a Spartans player.
Antonio Shelton describes himself as a “loud person,” which he called “a family characteristic.”
“On my mom’s side of the family, who I was raised by, yelling is just a normal thing in the house,” Penn State’s loquacious defensive tackle said. “It’s not an anger thing. It’s just how we communicate.”
Shelton uses his voice to lead, to encourage his teammates, and to entertain. There are times, too, when he uses it to speak out against what he feels is hateful speech, particularly when it is directed toward a friend.
The 22-year-old redshirt junior did that after he read a letter that had been sent last month to teammate Jonathan Sutherland by a Johnstown man calling himself “an old grad” who was critical of Sutherland’s dreadlocks, using phrases such as “awful hair” and “looks disgusting.” Shelton felt that he needed to act and released the letter Oct. 7 on Twitter.
(The outspoken Shelton was suspended for one game Tuesday after he was ejected from the Michigan State game. He appeared to spit in the direction of a Spartans player.)
“One of my teammates got this,” his tweet read. “Explain to me how this isn’t racist.”
The tweet set off a firestorm of reaction, with Penn State coach James Franklin issuing a heartfelt statement of support for Sutherland and all his players the next day.
“I wasn’t trying to create a spectacle or make something out of nothing,” Shelton said last week in a conference call with reporters. “I was just trying to identify the fact that this is wrong, and it shouldn’t happen to anybody, but it happened to somebody that I care about, somebody I respect, somebody that I consider a brother of mine.
“I don’t mind kind of putting myself out there to defend others when I feel like injustice has been done. I have a zero tolerance for any type of racism or any type of hateful language. I put it out there because Jon ... he’s not as outspoken as I am, but I kind of jumped the gun and I wasn’t thinking like, ‘Maybe Jon doesn’t want all this attention.’ But the positive reinforcement that we got from a lot of people, it was cool and very encouraging.”
Shelton also can point to himself when he is wrong, which he did after what happened midway through the fourth quarter of the Nittany Lions’ win over Michigan State last Saturday when he spat at one of the Spartans’ offensive linemen and was ejected.
In an apology a few hours later on Twitter, Shelton called the incident “extremely selfish behavior.”
“I misrepresented my coach, my school and my team,” he wrote. “That’s not who we are and that’s not who I am. I represent more than myself, this won’t happen again.”
The 6-foot-2, 311-pound Shelton was recruited late to Penn State. Accompanied by his mother, he met with Franklin at a restaurant close to his home in Columbus, Ohio, and wound up giving his commitment to the incoming class of 2016 just three days before national signing day.
“He’s not a guy that’s afraid to come into my office and have an honest conversation with me, which I want more of that,” Franklin said last week.
“He’s been awesome. We’re very, very proud of him, has done great in school. I think he is someone because of how his recruiting process went, he’s very appreciative of his Penn State experience. He doesn’t take it for granted.”
Shelton said that defensive end Shaka Toney, one of his roommates and an Imhotep Charter graduate, is his closest friend on the team and that he has gone with Toney to Philadelphia “a couple of times” to visit his family.
“We just got tighter over the years,” Shelton said. “We’re around each other so much. We’re in the same position room. We like the same things, just basic friendship-type stuff, I guess. I know if I need anything, I can count on him, and he knows that, if he needs anything, he can count on me.”
Shelton said he is living a lifelong dream in playing college football and, as a vocal leader, he is willing to do whatever it takes to help his team continue what has been a successful 8-0 season to date.
“It’s like I have so much energy and I want people to know how I feel, so I just say it,” he said. “It’s really cool, and I’m very thankful that my teammates and my coaching staff respect me enough to have me in that position.”