Florida prep football player suspended after defending openly gay classmate in altercation

Ben Rohrbach
East Lee County High football player Mark Betterson
Florida prep football player Mark Betterson reportedly received a school suspension after rushing to the defense of an openly gay classmate. (NBC 2)

A Florida prep football player who rushed to the defense of an openly gay classmate will avoid expulsion and instead serve a two-day suspension, according to multiple local media reports.

Meanwhile, James Griffin, 18, who allegedly started the physical altercation with the gay student, was arrested and charged with battery, according to Southwest Florida's News-Press (h/t USA TODAY). The 6-foot-2, 305-pound Griffin reportedly remains suspended and could be expelled.

The Lee County Sheriff's Office told local media that video surveillance of the Lehigh Acres (Fla.) East Lee County High cafeteria showed Griffin throwing bread and milk at Jonathan Colon, yelled homosexual slurs at him and punched the 18-year-old about the face and back of the head.

Griffin told WZVN-HD that Colon snapped in his face and gave him the finger. "I took the disrespect to a different level," he said, " but I don't believe that I was the only one who did something wrong."

While police admitted something may have sparked the fight, they also ensured the video supported Colon's claim that he never threw a punch. Instead, the video allegedly showed classmate Mark Betterson -- a two-way football player for the Jaguars this past fall -- defending Colon.

“I was protected by someone who had no reason to protect me,” Colon told the local CBS affiliate. “We have nothing in common -- he’s on the football team and I’m the flamboyant gay boy."

A 6-foot, 190-pound offensive lineman and linebacker for East Lee's football team as well as a forward on the school's basketball squad, Betterson reportedly did not know Colon prior to standing up for him.

"Bullying isn't called for," Betterson told the local NBC affiliate, "and everyone should be respected for what they want to be and what they want to do."

According to NBC 2, Betterson faced possible expulsion entering a punishment hearing on Monday, but instead received a two-day suspension -- thanks, perhaps in part, to Colon, who repaid the favor, organizing a student protest at the school in hopes of limiting any discipline against Betterson.