A group of Mississippi football players were among audience members who allegedly heckled the cast of a university play with slurs and disrupted the production on Tuesday night, the school's student newspaper reported.
"The Laramie Project," based on the 1998 murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, was attended by approximately 20 Ole Miss players who used homosexual slurs such as "fag" and insulted the sexual orientation of cast members with "borderline hate speech," according to director and faculty member Rory Ledbetter.
"The football players were certainly not the only audience members that were being offensive last night," Ledbetter told The Daily Mississippian. "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."
The university is continuing to investigate the incident and will meet with athletic administrators and coaches at a later date to consider possible punishment for the individuals involved.
"They'll make any recommendations there to us, to me, at the university, and we'll move from there," Ole Miss dean of students Thomas J. "Sparky" Reardon told ESPN. "I've been in touch with the theater department and the athletic department, and we're waiting on their report."
In a joint statement issued Wednesday, chancellor Dan Jones and athletic director Ross Bjork said, "As a member of the Ole Miss family, each of us has a responsibility to be accountable for our actions, and these individuals will be held accountable. Our investigation will determine the degree to which any and all students were involved. ... On behalf of our 22,000 students, our faculty, and our staff, we apologize."
Coach Hugh Freeze responded Thursday morning on Twitter: "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)
The athletic department apologized and asked the players to do the same, Ole Miss theater department chairwoman Rene Pulliam told the paper.
"Many of the athletes did apologize afterward," said Donald Cole, assistant provost and assistant to the chancellor concerning minority affairs. "As some of the athletics officials got involved, they made them apologize again. Some of the language that was used at this particular play was quite biased and quite offensive and very difficult to understand.
"We're going to have to let them know the seriousness of what they've done, and I think that if they were to realize this, then I think future apologies will be a lot more sincere."