Five takeaways from James Franklin’s weekly press conference:
1. The Letter: Dave Petersen, 78, a Penn State alumnus from the Johnstown area, recently wrote a letter to Penn State safety Jonathan Sutherland brutally criticizing Petersen’s appearance - Sutherland wears his hair in long dreadlocks - and generally criticizing the appearance of Nittany Lion players and the optics of the program.
“Watching the Idaho game on TV, we couldn’t help but notice your - well - awful hair," wrote Petersen, who confirmed writing the letter to the Johnston Tribune-Democrat.
“Surely there must be mirrors in the locker room! Don’t you have parents or a girlfriend who have told you those shoulder-length dreadlocks are disgusting and are certainly not attractive?”
And so on. Penn State players shared the letter on social media. Controversy has ensured.
Franklin used the opening statement of his press conference Tuesday for an emotional response.
“The football that I know and love brings people together, and embraces differences,’’ he said.
“Black, White, brown, Catholic, Jewish or Muslim, rich or poor, rural or urban, Republican or Democrat, long hair, short hair, no hair. They are all in that locker room together.
“We don't judge. We embrace differences. We live, we learn, we grow, we support and we defend each other. We're a family.
“This is my football. This is the game that I love and most importantly, my players that I love and will defend like sons.”
And then, Franklin being Franklin: “Now, back to Iowa. Iowa. Iowa. Iowa. Iowa. Iowa. Iowa and Iowa.’’
A Penn State football player was criticized by a fan for his hairstyle. Nittany Lions defens…
2. The owner of the dreadlocks: Sutherland, a third-year safety, honor student and team co-captain, issued a statement Tuesday forgiving Petersen, saying no apology is needed, thanking his supporters and finishing with, “Don’t be scared to be different!!’’
Offensive tackle Will Fries Tuesday called Sutherland, “The gold standard of character in our locker room.’’
Franklin called him, “The ultimate example of what our program is all about. He's confident. He's articulate. He's intelligent. He's thoughtful. He's caring and he's committed. I would be so blessed if my daughters would marry someone with his character and integrity one day.’’
3. How does Iowa do it? This week’s opponent does not stockpile blue-chip recruits, does not have a sexy style, and has a head coach, Kirk Ferentz, with the vibe of a middle school principal. Somehow the Hawkeyes - although they are coming off a 10-3 loss at Michigan - manage to win year after year.
“They are a program and a team that has an identity and have built towards that identity and recruited towards that identity and schemed towards that identity for a long time,’’ Franklin said.
“When you're able to keep a head coach there as long as they have kept him there and they have an identity and identity fits the university. The identity fits the community, and they get that.
“It appears to me that it's appreciated there. You know, the level of consistency that they have is appreciated, is appreciated there.”
4. The Kinnick Stadium edge: Franklin made preparing for a hostile crowd a huge priority for the season’s first road game, at Maryland, two weeks ago.
That worked; Penn State won 59-0.
Iowa will be a more hostile environment and a much bigger challenge.
“I think the fact that they don't have pro sports teams there; they are the only show -- I mean, they are the show,’’ Franklin said.
“They get great support from the state. They get great support from the community. The place will be sold out; it will be loud; they are right on top of you the way the stadium's built. It's not one of those old school stadiums that used to have a track around it. They are right on top of you.
“We hope to prepare our guys in a way that we can feed off the energy in the stadium. You know, this is why you come to Penn State, to play in games like this and in these types of environments.
5. Speaking of identities, …. does Penn State have one?
“You don't get to the point where you're No. 5 in the country in scoring defense and scoring offense without an identity,’’ Franklin said. “I think the numbers back that up clearly.”
That’s a yes.