Dave Petersen is a Penn State football fan who sent a letter to Nittany Lions safety Jonathan Sutherland telling him to cut off his dreadlocks because they are “unprofessional.” Sutherland’s teammate, Antonio Shelton, shared a photo of the letter on Twitter and wrote, “One of my teammates got this. Explain to me how this isn’t racist.”
Petersen has a history of writing similar letters to newspapers in Pennsylvania, including criticizing people with tattoos, saying they should only be on people in prison or “drug gangs,”; saying that educating children about Muslim holidays is offensive to 9/11 victims and survivors; and that babies and young children should not be allowed in public if they make noise.
Another Penn State football player, CJ Holmes, also posted the letter on Twitter and added, “my teammate got this in the mail today, and tbh Im at a lost for words.. I also have locs, Tats, and NFL dreams too, these messages can not be tolerated, this was extremely inappropriate, racially biased, and selfish to feel like you even have a right to send this message #WeAre.”
Sutherland, a sophomore from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, has had standout moments this season, including two blocked punts against Idaho. Sutherland was picked by his teammates to be a captain, according to his bio on the Penn State website.
Holmes added, “We still have the best fans in the land! Sometimes people just need to be educated. One bad apple does not spoil the entire tree. The fact that he took the time to really sit down and type that is beyond me. And then bring his parents into it.. Wheewwww…”
1. Petersen Wrote That He & His Wife Are ‘Older’ Graduates of Penn State & Said Dreadlocks ‘Look Disgusting & Are Certainly Not Attractive
In his letter, Petersen wrote that he and his wife are “older” graduates of Penn State. Petersen wrote, “Though the athletes of today are certainly superior to those in my days; we miss the clean cut young men and women from those days. Watching the Idaho game on TV we couldn’t help but notice your — well — awful hair. Surely there must be mirrors in the locker room! Don’t you have parents or girlfriend who’ve told you those shoulder length dreadlocks look disgusting and are certainly not attractive.”
Petersen added that Sutherland should remember he represents all Penn Staters, “both current and alumni from the past.” He wrote, “We would welcome the reappearance of dress codes for athletes.”
Petersen also said, “You will certainly be playing ‘on Sunday’ in the future but we have stopped watching the NFL due to the disgusting, tattoos, awful hair and immature antics in the end zone. Players should act as though they’ve ‘been there before.'”
Petersen, who led the letter with “We Are Penn State Proud,” and several exclamation points, signed the letter, “For the glory,” with his name.
2. Petersen Graduated From Penn State in 1966 & Is a Retired Speech Pathologist
Dave Petersen is a 78-year-old retired speech pathologist who lives with his wife, also a retired speech pathologist, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Penn State in 1966 and told the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat he is a former football season ticket holder.
Dave Petersen and his wife are listed as donors to the Penn State wrestling program. In his letter to Sutherland, Petersen wrote that he and his wife are fans of all of the sports at the university, including “football, wrestling, volleyball, gymnastics, basketball.”
Petersen added in the letter, “We love it all. I played all the sports in my younger days; still played full court basketball into my 50s. Loved the competition but never had the size or the talent to reach your level; though the desire was there!”
Petersen and his wife have twice been profiled in local newspapers about their travels and hobbies. The couple said in those profiles that they do not have any children or grandchildren and have focused their retirement years on traveling and going to car shows. They have traveled to more than 93 countries, according to the Tribune-Democrat.
3. Petersen, Who Once Compared Welfare to Slavery in a ‘Readers’ Forum Letter,’ Told a Local Newspaper He Stands by What He Wrote in the Penn State Letter
Dave Petersen could not be reached for comment by Heavy, but did speak to a local newspaper. He told the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, “It wasn’t threatening or anything. I was just disgruntled about some of the hairdos that we’re seeing. You think of Penn State as a bunch of clean-cut guys. And you do see so many who are clean cut. But the tattoos and the hair – there are a lot of guys with hair coming down their backs and it just looks awful. And it’s the same for the NFL and NBA, too.”
He said he was not trying to make a racial or cultural statement, telling the newspaper, “I would just like to see the coaches get the guys cleaned up and not looking like Florida State and Miami guys.”
According to the Tribune-Democrat, Petersen is a frequent contributor to its Readers’ Forum section of the newspaper. The Tribune-Democrat wrote, “He has written on topics ranging from blighted rental properties to the welfare system and how the courts handle violent offenders. In February 2013, he challenged a Tribune-Democrat feature about hunting, and said shooting wildlife with a camera, not a gun, was his preference.”
In 2013, he wrote a letter agreeing with another reader who said black leaders dropped the ball. In the letter, he compared welfare to slavery.
Petersen wrote, “We cannot win if the social slavery of welfare continues unchecked by rewarding those who ignore their social responsibilities, continue to produce multiple children in expectation of even more rewards, have no desire or plans to seek employment and whose only true ambition involves collecting welfare checks, food stamps and illicit drugs.”
4. Petersen Has Written Letters to Local Newspapers About His Hatred of ‘Disgusting’ Tattoos, Why Babies Should Be Banned From Restaurants & Airplanes & Why a Page About Muslim Holidays in a Newspaper Was Offensive to 9/11 Survivors
Dave Petersen has a history of writing letters about his viewpoints, including on tattoos. In a 2010 letter to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Petersen criticized an article the newspaper wrote about the stories told by tattoos.
“The publication of such an article merely glamorizes and condones such disfigurement. Stating that there is a “story” behind every tattoo is a weak and sophistic disclaimer,” he wrote. “The full back tattoo displayed by the 19-year-old hairdresser is unbelievably disgusting and disturbing. She had a lovely body which is now permanently deformed and disfigured. Young people with face/neck tattoos and face/body piercing are really sickening. Most parents would move heaven and earth to seek medical attention if their child were born with visible (even nonvisible) body markings or scars.”
Petersen continued, “What will this young woman say when her grandkids ask, ‘What is wrong with your back, Grandma?’ Society has come to expect this type of perverse behavior in prisons and drug gangs, but today’s young people should think long and hard about such behavior. Tattoos do not tell a story; rather they speak volumes about the person displaying such tasteless body alterations. It will not improve their job prospects later in life, nor will it impress potential employers. Employers certainly do not want to see future job prospects demonstrate such poor decision-making and irresponsible behavior.”
In 2011, he wrote a letter to the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat saying that a page in the newspaper about Muslim holidays was offensive to 9/11 survivors and families of those who died in the terrorist attack.
Petersen wrote that he was “dismayed” by the Tribune-Democrat’s “complete and utter lack of respect and the insensitivity demonstrated by a full page ‘Celebrate a Muslim holiday.'” He said, “Does the Tribune have no awareness of or regard for the families of those who died on 9/11? Has the Tribune forgotten those heroes who literally died in our back yard?”
The letter was published a week after the August 5 newspaper page was published.
Petersen wrote, “How can you celebrate a religion that encourages, supports and condones suicide vests to kill and maim innocent men, women and children, degrades women through the imposition of awful black robes with slits for eyes and denounces and defames the U.S. all the while accepting billion in U.S. foreign aid?”
He added, “The Tribune’s disclaimer as a paean to ‘diversity’ is invalid. This was an appalling display of poor judgment, an insult to all Americans and dishonors all who have died and continue to die fighting the war on terrorism.”
The newspaper added an editor’s note that read, “The page in question is the Mini Page, news and fun for kids. It is a syndicated feature.”
And in another letter to the Post-Gazette, Petersen said babies and children should be banned from restaurants and planes.
Petersen was happy that a local restaurant in the Johnstown area had decided to ban children under the age of 6, saying its owner was “taking a stand for civility.”
He wrote, “As stated in the story, it is only too true that parents think they can take their ‘rugrats’ anywhere and do anything with no responsibility taken. IF children cannot sit still, speak quietly and behave civilly, they should be left at home. Babies do not belong in restaurants. Paying customers should not have to listen to crying babies and noisy children. If parents are not capable of discipline or control of their children in restaurants and other public places, then they should buy a cookbook, learn to cook, stay home and enjoy the obnoxious behavior in the privacy of their own homes.”
He also scoffed at the idea of people being taught how to parent. And he said the restaurant’s owner should also be put in charge of air travel, “which is stressful and costly enough that passengers should not have to be subjected to disorderly and disruptive babies. It is a sure bet that flights with no babies/children would be widely hailed, gladly embraced and hugely patronized.”
He closed by writing, “Best of all, it would be quiet.”
5. Penn State Fans Have Spoken Out to Say the Letter Write Doesn’t Represent Them
Penn State officials have not commented about the letter, which spread quickly on social media after it was shared by the Nittany Lions players. The university’s official Twitter account did tweet back to Shelton and wrote, “While we don’t know the source of this letter or the authenticity, obviously its content does not align with our values. We strongly condemn this message or any message of intolerance.”
Hundreds of other Penn State football fans came to the defense of their players, criticizing Petersen and saying he doesn’t speak for them.
One wrote, “Dear Dave, No. Sincerely, Every other Penn Stater.”
Another said, “People like this can’t “age out” of the fan base soon enough.”
Many others called for Petersen to be removed from fan groups and barred from Penn State sporting events.
“Seriously these kids are held to such high standards by Coach Franklin and Penn State to excel in football and school who cares how they choose to wear their hair. The fact that this person sent a letter he should be stripped of his tickets,” another Twitter user wrote.
Another added, “Penn Staters & the @NittanyLionClub should be finding and removing this gentleman from all @GoPSUsports sanctioned events.”
Sandy Barbour, the vice president for intercollegiate athletics at Penn State, tweeted, ” “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!”
Penn State is 5-0 and is ranked No. 10 in the country. Sutherland and the Nittany Lions travel to play the Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday.