People are so bold with their racism lately.
It seems as if folks are expressing thoughts and feelings that might have been squelched once upon a time. The Age of Trump has emboldened them to say what’s on their mind, ignoring how their narrow viewpoints will play to diverse audiences.
Take that incredibly nervy letter sent reportedly by a Penn State alum to a co-captain on the football team, and posted on Twitter Monday by a teammate.
“Watching the Idaho game on TV, we couldn’t help but notice your — well — awful hair,” Dave Petersen of Johnstown wrote to Jonathan Sutherland. “Surely there must be mirrors in the locker room! Don’t you have parents or [a] girlfriend who’ve told you those shoulder length dreadlocks look disgusting and are certainly not attractive.”
Petersen also said things were better during his era (the early to mid-1960s) in Happy Valley, writing, “We miss the clean cut young men and women from those days. …"
He later added, "We would welcome the reappearance of a dress code for athletes.”
In other words, Petersen wants to Make Penn State Great Again.
You know, like in the good old days, when players on mostly white teams wore their hair closely cropped, almost to the point where you couldn’t determine the texture of a black player’s hair.
What’s especially galling is Petersen’s narrow-minded assumption that the old way is the right way. That his hair and how he wears it is the standard, and anything that deviates from that, such as Sutherland’s long dreadlocks, is wrong. That’s thinking that should have gone out with bobby socks, poodle skirts, and the repressiveness that permeated the 1950s.
If the civil rights movement and then the 1970s taught America anything, it was that black is beautiful in all of its iterations. But that’s a message obviously lost on Petersen and a lot of people like him, which is why his letter struck a nerve after Lions defensive tackle Antonio Shelton’s post went viral. On the post, Shelton wrote, “One of my teammates got this. Explain to me how this isn’t racist.”
Penn State vice president of athletics Sandy Barbour tweeted her support of Sutherland and his teammates, saying, "I stand with our Penn State student athletes and appreciate how they represent PSU in competition, in the classroom and in the community.”
“Their dress, tattoos, or hairstyle has no impact on my support, nor does their gender, skin color, sexuality or religion," she wrote.
Thankfully, for Sutherland and others who choose to express themselves through their hair, body art, or those new LawnBoyz necklaces that some Penn State players have sported — much to the ire of some fans it’s a new day. The cookie-cutter look of players is long gone.
We’re not going back, no matter how much the folks at home watching on their TVs might dislike how the culture has evolved. Players of today are going to wear their tattoos or their dreadlocks, or dye their hair blond, like Cleveland’s Odell Beckham Jr.
“Let this be one of the many examples to us that in the year 2019, people of different cultures, religions, and ethnicities are still being discriminated against and it needs to stop,” Sutherland, who says he’s forgiven the letter writer, tweeted. “Don’t be scared to be different!!”
These athletes understand what Petersen and a whole lot of people, including those who work at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, don’t — that diversity is America’s greatest strength.