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Jonathan Sutherland Continues Drawing Strength From Racist Letter

Last fall, Penn State football safety Jonathan Sutherland experienced racism first hand when he received a racially charged letter from an alleged Penn State alum that critiqued his dreadlocks and appearance. The letter subsequently rallied the team’s locker room around Sutherland and strengthened the team as a whole.

Now months removed from the incident, Sutherland met with the media Thursday via Zoom to discuss racial injustice across the country and offer his perspective on similar issues.

He believes that Penn State football has done a great job responding to the racial injustices in the country. Sutherland said the majority of the team has gotten together for multiple Zoom meetings over the past couple of months to discuss these issues and plan how to create positive change in the community.

Head coach James Franklin previously said conversations on these issues need to happen in order for everyone to better understand the topic and for change to occur. Sutherland echoed that sentiment Thursday.

“We have guys from all different cultures, all different ethnicities on the team,” Sutherland said. “It’s a conversation that needs to be had and has been had. We’ve had great dialogue with one another expressing the concerns, expressing how one may be feeling, and what we can do to overall educate ourselves and just try to fight this racial inequality that’s going on in this country.”

Sutherland believes Franklin and his staff have gone above and beyond in creating a comfortable environment for players to speak out on racial issues.

“I feel like Coach Franklin and his staff do a great job being open and having those tough conversations with us,” he said. “Like I said before, we’ve had Zoom meetings with more than two-thirds of the team joining on just so we can talk about these issues going on. I don’t think a lot of the programs in the country have done that.”

Sutherland then pivoted to the racist letter he received last fall. The all-around support from his teammates and the rest of the program following the letter particularly stood out to him.

“The support I got from my teammates and everyone in this organization was great,” Sutherland said. “I didn’t feel alone at all. I felt like everyone had my back and everyone was willing to fight for me. It was really supporting, I appreciate it for sure.”

He continued, mentioning he kept the letter and still has it today. While the message brought him sadness in the moment, he said it’s important for him to hold onto it.

“I still got it,” Sutherland said. “When I first read the letter it was upsetting and everything. I feel like having it as a reminder kind of just reminds me of all the support that I got behind my back and how much we as a society need to progress in the right direction.”

After Sutherland’s letter became public, many of his teammates spoke out against the racist language and defended the Nittany Lions’ safety. The letter also garnered national attention from closet Penn State fan Kirk Herbstreit and resulted in a powerful response from Franklin.

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a sophomore majoring in journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He grew up in Lindenhurst, NY and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his rants on all of his teams follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail and death threats to [email protected]

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