National Columnist

Apology isn't enough for what Ole Miss thinks its football players did

This can't happen, but it did happen. The only thing left for Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze to do, after determining exactly who did what, is to dole out punishment.

And his punishment had better reflect the following: This can't happen.

But it did.

Roughly 20 Ole Miss players in a theater class really did attend a Tuesday night showing of The Laramie Project, a play about Matthew Shepard, an openly gay University of Wyoming student who was tortured and murdered in 1998. And some of those Ole Miss football players really did take part in heckling the actors for their sexual orientation and body type, according to theater faculty member Rory Ledbetter, who described the words coming out of the crowd as "borderline hate speech."

There are two sides to this story, and I'll give the other side. One audience member, sitting in the front row Tuesday night, told the Clarion-Ledger that he heard nothing but laughter, and said some of the laughter was coming from the stage. So that's one side.

The other side? Two theater faculty members said the heckling happened. And a cast member told the Daily Mississippian, "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."

A segment of the Ole Miss fan base will use the words of that student in the front row, and any other students that might come out of the woodwork to defend the football team, as reason to dismiss this and attack media who write about it. I sent out one tweet about this story on Thursday and was immediately deluged by angry tweets from Ole Miss fans who don't have the first clue what happened in that theater.

I don't know what happened, either. But I know something happened. Faculty members and a cast member aren't going to make this stuff up. All three of them? Really? Nah. Stop it. Don't even go there.

The Ole Miss athletic department, by the way, made the players apologize to the theater department. So Ole Miss fans, stop tweeting me and tweet your own athletic department. They think something happened too.

It's up to Hugh Freeze to find out what it was, and how bad it was. And if he's wondering what to do with young men who would behave so poorly and embarrass Ole Miss so awfully, he should take some inspiration from the high school football coach in Utah who was confronted with something similar last week. I wrote about it, because that coach made a dramatic statement to his team. That statement?

This can't happen.

 
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