Penn State seized T-shirts saying "Chains, Tattoos, Dreads & We Are" from a group of players who wore them before Saturday's game against Iowa.
ESPN's Holly Rowe reported that the players wore the shirts to support safety Jonathan Sutherland after he received a racist letter from a Penn State fan this week. However, coach James Franklin wished the players had discussed their decision to wear the shirts with Penn State personnel before doing so.
"While we are supportive of our students expressing themselves in a thoughtful manner, they are expected to wear team-issued apparel on game day," Penn State said in a statement, per The Athletic's Audrey Snyder. "We asked our students to remove the shirts out of an abundance of caution for NCAA compliance."
Earlier this week, Penn State players posted a photo of the letter Sutherland received from a fan criticizing his dreadlocks.
"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 a girlfriend who have told you those shoulder-length dreadlocks look disgusting and are certainly not attractive," the letter said.
"We congratulate you on your game against Pitt, but you need to remember you represent all Penn Staters both current and alumni from years past. We would welcome the reappearance of dress code for athletes.
"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.’ [sic]"
Franklin also defended Sutherland at a press conference, calling the safety "the ultimate example of what our program is all about."
Sutherland later released a statement on Twitter in response to 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," he wrote. "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 added: "Let this be one of the many examples to us that in the year 2019, people of different cultures, religions, and ethnicities are still being discriminated against and it needs to stop."