A gaggle of Ole Miss students, including members of the football team, disrupted the Ole Miss theater department's performance of "The Laramie Project" on Tuesday evening with heckling and homophobic remarks, according to the school newspaper.
"The Laramie Project" is a play about the aftermath of the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a University of Wyoming student who was gay. Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson were convicted of beating Shepard and tying him to a fence where he was left to die. Both received consecutive life sentences.
According to the play’s director and theater faculty member Rory Ledbetter, some audience members used derogatory slurs like “***” 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.”
“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 the Daily Mississippian, the players were enrolled in a freshman level theater course that requires them to attend a specific number of plays. The estimated 20 players in attendance were not identified.
"The football players were certainly not the only audience members that were being offensive last night,” Ledbetter told the DM. “But they were definitely the ones who seemed to initiate others in the audience to say things, too. It seemed like they didn’t know that they were representing the university when they were doing these things.”
A coach was notified of the players' actions and a member of the athletic department was sent to the theater. The players then were subsequently asked to apologize for their actions but were "taking pictures of cast members while making fun of them, talking on their cell phones, hollering at the females in the cast and talking to other audience members during the acts,” per the play's performance report, and according to the paper, the apology given by the players' designated spokesperson caused two cast members of the play to cry.
The Ole Miss Dean of Students said that the university was looking into the incident.
This incident is just the latest in a spate of recent homophobic incidents in sports. On Tuesday, NASCAR driver Nelson Piquet Jr. was fined $10,000 and ordered to attend sensitivity training for a remark he made on social media. Last season, Tampa Bay Rays' shortstop Yunel Escobar wrote a slur on his eyeblack when he was with the Toronto Blue Jays. He was suspended three games.
“The unfortunate part of all of this is that I don’t think that the audience members that caused these problems really understood what they were doing,” Ledbetter told the paper about the Ole Miss incident. “Further education on all of this needs to be brought to light.”
Yes, yes it does. Hopefully everyone involved is appropriately punished for their actions.