By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Iowa receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette had dreadlocks during his first two seasons in college and still has tattoos that are special to him.
To some, unfortunately, having dreadlocks and tattoos creates a stereotype that is rooted in racism and narrow-mindedness.
We were reminded of that from the disturbing letter that was written by a 1966 graduate of Penn State and sent to a member of the Penn State football team who is black.
The letter was sent to sophomore safety Jonathan Sutherland and was critical of Sutherland’s appearance, saying that his shoulder-length dreadlocks look disgusting and awful, and that a dress code for athletes should be enforced.
One of Sutherland’s teammates, who is also black, was so offended by the letter that he posted it on twitter and asked how it wasn’t racist.
“I just hope they get that solved over there,” Smith-Marsette said Tuesday. “It’s my first time hearing about it, but I hope they get that solved. That’s crazy.
“I mean I had dreads and I’ve got tattoos, so I would take offense to that, too, because it’s stereotypical. Mainly, you see colored people with dreads. That’s sad.”
The only positive that you could take from the letter is that at least the author had the guts to sign his name to it.
But that’s it.
Everything else about the letter was awful and disgusting to borrow a few words from the person who wrote it.
The words and opinions were fueled and crafted by racism whether the author realizes it or not, or is willing to admit it.
One of the greatest gifts we have is the freedom to practice self-expression, and if that means having dreadlocks and tattoos, then more power to you.
Smith-Marsette is no different now without dreadlocks than he was with them. He might look different, but his values, character and work ethic are still the same.
Diversity is what makes our nation so wonderful because life would be dull and predictable if we all looked and acted the same.
Penn State coach James Franklin, who is also black, addressed the letter at the start of his press conference on Tuesday before talking about Saturday’s game against No. 17 Iowa at Kinnick Stadium.
"The football that I know and love brings people together and embraces differences – black, white, brown, Catholic, Jewish or Muslim, rich or poor, rural or urban, Republican or Democrat,” Franklin said. “Long hair, short hair, no hair, they're all in that locker room together. Teams all over this country are the purest form of humanity that we have. We don't judge, we embrace differences. We live. We learn. We grow. We support and we defend each other. We're a family."
A college football team such as Penn State is symbolic in many ways of society in that people from all different kinds of ethnic and cultural backgrounds come together for a common cause.
The players look different, act different and have different likes and dislikes, but they embrace those differences, as Franklin said, simply because it’s the right thing to do.
The letter pointed out that Sutherland represents all Penn Staters, both current and those alumni from years past.
The fact that Sutherland was voted a team captain for this season shows just how much respect and admiration that he has from his teammates and coaches.
So as far as representing Penn State, Sutherland is doing that much better than the person who wrote the letter.
Iowa defensive back Devonte Young has long dreadlocks, but he also has a work ethic and a commitment to the team that says a lot about his character and resolve.
Young likes his dreadlocks or he wouldn't have them. But the choice is Young's to make, and he should be able to make that choice without being stereotyped by somebody whose values are outdated.
It is so easy to label and stereotype people based solely on appearances, and with those labels and stereotypes, often comes prejudice, hate and misconceptions.
Who is to say that having dreadlocks and tattoos is worse than parting your hair on the side and cutting above the ears? They're just different, and it's a personal choice.
In the letter, the person describes himself and his wife as proud, older Penn State graduates who love following Penn State athletics.
But he also mentions in the last paragraph that he has stopped watching the NFL due to the “disgusting tattoos, awful hair and immature antics in the end zone.”
It doesn’t take a mind reader to see the racism in that statement, considering that a majority of the players in the NFL are black.
Penn State isn’t that far removed from arguably the worst scandal in the history of college sports involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who will spend the rest of his life in jail after being convicted of rape and child sexual abuse.
Sandusky’s case led to the downfall of former Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who went from being a living legend to a disgraced enabler.
Sandusky doesn’t have dreadlocks or tattoos, but he is a disgusting and awful human being who took advantage of his conservative appearance to avoid scrutiny or suspicion.
If the letter has done anything besides expose the writer for being stupid, close-minded and racist, it probably has helped to unify the Penn State players even more.