Opinion: We should stand in solidarity with student-athletes
By Sayo Jolayemi | Guest Writer
The Penn State football team currently stands at 7-0, and the Nittany Lions are leaving little room for criticism involving the on-field play.
Jonathan Sutherland, a defensive back for the team, had one of his best games of the season a few weeks ago against Pittsburgh, a game in which he recorded five tackles. Yet shortly after the game, he received a letter from a man who had graduated from Penn State.
In this note, a man voiced complaints about Sutherland’s hairstyle (his dreadlocks), calling them “awful,” “disgusting” and “not attractive.”
The letter, which Penn State running back C.J. Holmes shared on Twitter, has been met with backlash from not only the Penn State community but also fans of college football as a whole.
The author of the letter, Dave Petersen, concluded by stating that even though he believes Sutherland has a future in the NFL, he and his wife no longer watch professional football because of “the disgusting tattoos, awful hair and immature antics in the end zone.”
Aside from being unnecessary, inconsiderate and quite frankly blatantly full of racist undertones, this letter speaks volumes about the climate of the nation in which we currently live.
Members of Penn State’s football team released a variety of responses on social media in support of their teammate. Prior to their matchup against Iowa on Oct. 12, the Nittany Lions sported shirts backing Sutherland that read “Chains, Tattoos, Dreads, & WE ARE.”
However, it wasn’t long before Penn State football faculty confiscated the shirts from the players. When interviewed by ESPN journalist Holly Rowe, head coach James Franklin voiced clear frustration, stating, “The players did this on their own.”
The parallels between this situation and the Colin Kaepernick kneeling fiasco are palpable.
The approach to treating college athletes has always been rather rocky. Young adults who are dedicating themselves to their studies also represent their respective universities on the athletic field. Naturally, as representatives of the school, their names are associated with how people view a particular university.
It’s this train of thinking that makes athletes responsible for doing the right thing at all times because of the weight they carry on their shoulders.
This is why when they believe something is wrong, it’s important that they speak out, just as Holmes did.
It’s clear that while some individuals are fans of athletes, they aren’t in support of their thoughts or beliefs.
Thus, there is an existing demographic that would prefer that these athletes stripped themselves of their individuality. Fortunately, though, there are people who fully support athletes embracing who they are in creative and non-harmful ways.
There is no better example than that of Mason Young, a Penn State fan who wrote a wholesome letter to Sutherland denouncing Petersen’s ignorant comments with uplifting words and admiration.
He even called Sutherland’s dreadlocks “magical” and expressed that he was Sutherland’s No. 1 fan.
Even though none of us attend Penn State, I’d like to believe WE ARE all on the side of creative expression and uplifting one another.
After all, we’re all for one and one for all.
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