Sep 7, 2013; Oxford, MS, USA; Mississippi Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze leads the team to the field before the game against the Southeast Missouri State Redhawks at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Hugh Freeze And Ole Miss Must Make A Statement With Players Accused Of Homophobic Disturbance

The Ole Miss Rebels football program must take a definitive stand against athletes perpetuating atmospheres of social and cultural hate.

Head coach Hugh Freeze told Parrish Alford of he is looking into reports of an ugly incident involving Ole Miss football players disrupting a student production of “The Laramie Project” with homophobic slurs.

If the initial reports by Ole Miss student newspaper the Daily Mississippian are confirmed, Freeze must draw a hard line.

Adam Ganucheau’s report doesn’t detail protest based on religious belief. Nor is this simple heckling, which would be a poor representation of the football program in its own right.

No, what Ganucheau outlines is pure, vitriolic rhetoric, the impact of which is only heightened given “The Laramie Project” is an adaption of the murder of Matthew Shepard.

Many members of an audience of mostly Ole Miss students, including an estimated 20 Ole Miss football players, openly disrespected and disrupted the Ole Miss theater department’s production of “The Laramie Project” Tuesday night at the Meek Auditorium.

Cast members of the play, which is about an openly gay male who was murdered in Laramie County in Wyoming, said members of the audience became so disruptive at times that they struggled completing the play.

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.”

Freeze faces a difficult choice if the incident is substantiated. In the football-mad SEC, fans demand victory and if suspending 20 players costs the Rebels a critical divisional showdown with Auburn, Freeze is putting his own job security on the line.

But then, bold decisions often have high stakes.

The one thing the Ole Miss football program cannot do is nothing.

As my friend and former North Carolina football player Michael Felder details, intolerance is not exclusive to Ole Miss. There is a systemic problems in sports, but that go even deeper in our society, that needs addressing.

Acceptance of openly gay athletes became a topic du jour for the echo chamber earlier this year when basketball player Jason Collins came out. Hostess programs, autograph sessions and various other items of far less consequence since drowned out the discussion.

The conversation needs to go deeper than simply gay athletes and the realm of sports itself. The issue at hand is basic human empathy.

Ole Miss football was prominently in the backdrop of another cultural issue a half-century ago, chronicled last year in the ESPN “30-For-30″ series entry Ghosts of Ole Miss.

Hopefully 51 years later, Rebel football can have a positive place in the furthering of another social topic.

Tags: Football Ole Miss Rebels

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