Several football players at the University of Mississippi may have a lot of explaining to do. According to a report in the student newspaper, The Daily Mississippian, a group of 20 freshman players were among the worst offenders in a crowd that disrupted a Tuesday night performance of The Laramie Project. The play is about the reaction to the murder of Matthew Shephard, the University of Wyoming student murdered in 1998 because he was gay.
According to the play’s director and theater faculty member Rory Ledbetter, some audience members used derogatory slurs like “fag” and heckled both cast members and the characters they were portraying for their body types and sexual orientations. Ledbetter said the audience’s reactions included “borderline hate speech.”According to the performance log, the players were loudly jeering the female cast members, making fun of cast members while taking pictures of them and holding loud conversations with others in the audience while the play was underway. Ledbetter said that the players were also encouraging others in the audience to join in.
“I am the only gay person on the cast,” junior theater major Garrison Gibbons said. “I played a gay character in the show, and to be ridiculed like that was something that really made me realize that some people at Ole Miss and in Mississippi still can’t accept me for who I am.”
According to several accounts, the football players attended the play because they are enrolled in a freshman-level theater course that requires the students to attend a specific number of plays throughout the semester.
When house director Lyda Phillips found out that the football players were among the worst offenders, she called a coach, who asked associate athletic support director Drew Clinton to come to the auditorium. After the play, Clinton ordered the players to apologize.
But this isn't the end of the story. Not by a longshot. When head coach Hugh Freeze found out about the incident, he tweeted:
We certainly do not condone any actions that offend or hurt people in any way.We are working with all departments involved to find the facts— Hugh Freeze (@CoachHughFreeze) October 3, 2013
Chancellor Dan Jones and athletic director Ross Bjork have issued an equally strong statement condemning the incident and apologizing on behalf of the entire Ole Miss community. Assistant provost and minority affairs chief Donald Evans told ESPN that officials definitely have an idea who was involved and that punishments will be forthcoming.
Ole Miss plays Auburn on Saturday. Suffice to say that at the absolute minimum, the players involved have no business being anywhere near the lineup for that game.
6:39 PM PT: An encouraging note from Otteray Scribe in the comments. He has a grandson at Ole Miss, and word is that Freeze is going to drop the hammer on those involved. As the grandson put it, "There will be no circling the wagons on this because Hugh Freeze is no Joe Paterno." And the repercussions are going to be felt pretty soon--in the grandson's words, "there are going to be some very sad puppies" come Saturday.