Penn State dreadlocks firestorm

David and Cindie Peterson talked with The Tribune-Democrat in 2017 about their frequent foreign travels, including visting Africa several times and loving the country and its people. Both are retired speech pathologists.

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – The man whose letter to a Penn State football player sparked intense reaction for its racial overtones is a world traveler who says he loves to visit Africa.

In a 2017 interview with The Tribune-Democrat, David Petersen said he and his wife, Cindie, were about to make their sixth trip to that continent in connection with their frequent foreign travels.

“We’re just really loving Africa,” he said. “We enjoy meeting the people. The African people are wonderful.”

Some might see that as a contradiction to Petersen’s admonishing message to Penn State football player Jonathan Sutherland about his long dreadlocks hairstyle. Petersen said he would welcome the “reappearance of dress codes for athletes.”

Petersen said he is a 1966 graduate of Penn State, where he studied speech pathology. Tribune-Democrat archives show Peterson was a speech pathologist for 33 years at the Hiram G. Andrews Center in Johnstown prior to retirement. His wife also worked as a speech pathologist

Petersen talked by phone with The Tribune-Democrat on Tuesday, acknowledging he did not expect his letter to set off a social media firestorm. He also said it was not intended to infer racial intolerance or cultural differences.

In the 2017 interview with The Tribune-Democrat, the Petersens said they had traveled to 93 countries, including Cambodia, Vietnam, Mexico, Egypt, Kenya and many places in Europe. They said they had been to Thailand 10 times.

Cindie Petersen was 71 in 2017, and David Petersen was 75.

Their home was filled with photographs and artifacts representing their excursions, including a picture of the couple with a cheetah, an African big cat.

“We love the photography and wildlife – that’s a big thing now with a lot of our trips,” Cindie Petersen said then.

“Not everyone gets to experience a National Geographic photo for real, but we’ve been able to do that. We’re very much into the conservation of wildlife; we want to see the animals and be able to tell people about them before they’re not here.”

In 2010, David Petersen told The Tribune-Democrat that he was an accomplished woodworker, and had completed an adult-education course at Greater Johnstown Area Vocational-Technical School.

Petersen called himself a car enthusiast. His 2003 Jaguar had recently earned him first place in judging through the North American Jaguar Club.

“I enjoy showing our cars, and I enjoy seeing what others have done with their cars,” Petersen said then, noting that he and his wife were members of Flood City Corvette Club in Johnstown, the Pittsburgh Jaguar Club and the North American Jaguar Club.

Chip Minemyer is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Reach him at Follow him on Twitter @MinemyerChip.

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