Critics dogpile football team who heckled Matthew Shepard play

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School officials and sports commentators alike called University of Mississippi football players onto the carpet after team members heckled a production of “The Laramie Project,” a play about murdered gay college student Matthew Shepard, October 1. Some accounts allege that the disruption was limited to laughter, but others claim that players shouted “fag” at the actors. Shortly after the Daily Mississippian broke the story, a rare spirit of consensus and agreeability manifested in this divided nation: Pretty much everyone got mad at Ole Miss, including university officials themselves.

The school president and athletics director released a joint statement the following day: “We strongly condemn the behavior exhibited Tuesday night. Each of us has a responsibility to be accountable for our actions, and these individuals will be held accountable.”

School coach Hugh Freeze made a statement via 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.”

Associate theater chair Michael Barnett commented, “We’ve come a long way at the university, but there is still a ways to go.” Barnett said that while some players lingered to apologize to the cast that the actors doubted their sincerity.

Writing for FOX Sports, Greg Couch advised suspending the offenders from the team. “For once, let’s put something ahead of football. Send a message for everyone at that school, everyone in the state, everyone in society: Football comes behind human decency and civility.”

CBS Sports’ Gregg Doyel echoed the sentiment: “It’s up to Hugh Freeze to find out how bad it was, and his punishment had better reflect the following: This can’t happen.”

And CNN’s John D. Sutter said: “When will homophobia in the United States start seeming so ridiculous it’s laughable? Not in 2013, it seems. Certainly not this week.”

Most grave of all, Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew Shepard and co-founder of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, released a statement of her own October 4: “Using hate-filled words to interrupt a play about anti-gay hate is a sad irony that only reminds me of the work we at the Matthew Shepard Foundation and each of us as individuals must undertake.”

The Jackson Clarion-Ledger today reported that all players in attendance at the show will be required to attend a class on sensitivity and “educational dialogue.” The school says they are still gathering all the facts, and further punishment may be leveled, if warranted.

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