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Penn State alum calls black player's dreadlocks 'disgusting' in viral letter

Penn State University football player Jonathan Sutherland was the subject of a letter that called his dreadlocks "disgusting."
Penn State Football Game
Penn State football player Jonathan Sutherland's dreadlocks are the subject of a viral letter that he described as "degrading."Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

At first glance, a letter apparently addressed to Penn State University football player Jonathan Sutherland reads like fan mail.

“Dear Jonathan,” begins the note, signed by Dave Petersen. “My wife and I are proud ‘older’ graduates of Penn State. We follow all Penn State sports; football, wrestling, volleyball, gymnastics, basketball. We love it all.”

However, the letter takes an ugly turn in the next paragraph.

“Watching the Idaho game on TV we couldn’t help but notice your — well — awful hair,” states the letter. “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.”

The letter was posted on Twitter by Sutherland's Nittany Lions teammate Antonio Shelton on Monday.

“Explain to me how this isn’t racist,” Shelton wrote in a now-viral tweet.

PSU defensive tackle Aeneas Hawkins was just as disgusted.

“Jonathan Sutherland is THE blueprint. The highest standard in the classroom, community, and with his teammates on the field or off,” Hawkins wrote. “This letter is intolerable, your discomfort is disgusting, and you don’t deserve to be ‘represented’ by a man with character as spectacular as #26.”

Sandy Barbour, Penn State’s vice president for intercollegiate athletics, also condemned the letter's hateful words.

“I stand with our Penn State student athletes and appreciate how they represent PSU in competition, in the classroom and in the community,” Barbour wrote on Twitter. “Their dress, tattoos, or hairstyle has no impact on my support, nor does their gender, skin color, sexuality or religion! #WeAre #ONETEAM.”

A spokesperson for PSU told TODAY Style in a statement that the letter “does not align with our values and we strongly condemn this message or any message of intolerance."

In a statement posted Tuesday to Twitter, Sutherland wrote that he forgives the author of the letter.

"Although the message was indeed rude, ignorant, and judging, I've taken no personal offense to it because personally, I must respect you as a person before I respect your opinion. At the end of the day, without an apology needed, I forgive this individual because I'm nowhere close to being perfect and I expect God to forgive me for all the wrong I've done in my life," he wrote.

NBC News was not able to immediately reach Petersen for comment.