University of Mississippi officials are investigating an incident in which 20 or so football players and other athletes “from various sports” reportedly heckled theater students performing The Laramie Project, a play about the 1998 killing of the University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, with gay slurs. In a statement sent to Inside Higher Ed, Chancellor Dan Jones and Athletics Director Ross Bjork apologized on behalf of the university, and said that after meeting with athletes to talk about what happened, they would work with student affairs officials and the campus Bias Incident Response Team “to determine the facts and appropriate next steps.” Football coach Hugh Freeze also tweeted Thursday that “We certainly do not condone any actions that offend or hurt people in any way. We are working with all departments to find the facts.”
The faculty member who directed the play told The Daily Mississippian student newspaper, which first reported the incident, that audience members disrupted the play repeatedly with derogatory terms like “fag” and other “borderline hate speech.” Sources also told the paper that the football players attended the play as part of a requirement for a freshman-level theater course.
“I am the only gay person in the cast,” the paper quoted Garrison Gibbons, a student and theater major, as saying. “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.”