Editor's note: This editorial was written by Daily Collegian assistant sports editor Jake Aferiat
Penn State played the nostalgia card this past weekend when the Nittany Lions donned their signature “Generations of Greatness” throwback uniforms — a respectful, tasteful way to remember and pay homage to previous Penn State teams and their accomplishments.
Unfortunately, 78-year-old Penn State fan and member of the class of 1966, Dave Petersen, tapped into nostalgia of the worst kind on Monday when his racist remarks surfaced regarding redshirt sophomore safety Jonathan Sutherland and his dreadlocks.
One of my teammates got this. Explain to me how this isn’t racist. pic.twitter.com/Qms1F6DEEP— Antonio Shelton (@_groovy55) October 7, 2019
Petersen commented on what he described as Sutherland's "well — awful hair" and how "disgusting" it is. Petersen then went on to say he misses the days of "clean cut men and women."
For consistency's sake, where were Blake Gillikin and Jordan Stout's letters? They're not "clean cut” — but they are white. That said, it seems Petersen only cares about "clean cut" when it comes to certain athletes.
This perpetuates a belief held by many white sports fans that black athletes should suppress their identities and simply "stick to sports," seeing them just as athletes and not as humans.
Petersen opened his letter by saying he and his wife are “older” graduates of Penn State — as if to potentially say his opinion automatically has merit and is morally defensible simply because of his age.
Petersen’s comments show how out of touch he is. Just because he went to this university and is entitled to voice his opinion doesn't mean Sutherland, James Franklin or anyone else has to take his bigotry seriously and heed his “advice.”
At one point, Petersen asked Sutherland to "remember you [Sutherland] represent both current and those alumni from years past."
Couple that with Petersen's misguided use of both the 'We Are' and 'For the Glory' themes of Penn State, he seems to have forgotten the meaning behind those chants and mantras that adorned his letter.
“We Are” is a philosophy born out of the football team that Petersen professes to love so much, which stood up against racial prejudice and Jim Crow laws in the south when Penn State refused to play the University of Miami in 1946 after Miami told Penn State to leave its black players, like Wally Triplett, behind.
Petersen is making a thinly veiled attempt at trying to project the 'true Penn Stater,’ but instead just articulates a certain set of values from a bygone era.
In the process, Petersen also seems to have forgotten the unifying force football is at this university and how today's game is apparently different from the one he is accustomed to.
James Franklin echoed this point when he offered a full-throated defense of Sutherland and a condemnation of the sentiment Petersen was trying to convey.
But Franklin's not naive.
He also recognizes the weight his words carry as one of just 13 black FBS coaches, despite the proportion of black players in FBS football totaling 53.8 percent as of 2017, and the harm and regression that can occur from one of his black players being singled out and attacked for their race.
Last year, Franklin coached against former NFL and current Illinois coach Lovie Smith, in just one of a minimal number of meetings between two black FBS coaches, and was able to see the gravity of that situation and its possible ramifications.
"I also feel like I carry a little bit of that weight that I'm also working for thousands of young African-American football coaches all over the country that when someone gets into my position the success that we have here hopefully opens some opportunities for other guys in the future," Franklin said prior to that game.
So Petersen may want to go back to those old days that he remembers as having “clean cut” athletes. But times like those would likely mean Sutherland, Micah Parsons, Franklin and others from the team would have to sacrifice being themselves even more just to appease misguided people like Petersen.
If he's really concerned about the reputation of Penn State football, maybe Petersen should realize the sport, the university and culture as a whole would be better off with Franklin, Sutherland and others just the way they are.
Regardless of what Petersen says, it's these players and coaches who truly embody the 'We Are' philosophy as it was created and intended, which he seems to have forgotten. Ignorance isn’t an excuse.