(Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports)
Dan Wolken and Paul Myerberg, USA TODAY Sports
University of Mississippi officials are investigating a report from The Daily Mississippian in which a number of Mississippi football players were among an audience that used "borderline hate speech" in verbally harassing student actors during a university theater production of The Laramie Project.
University of Mississippi officials are investigating a report from The Daily Mississippian in which a number of Mississippi football players were among an audience that used "borderline
A person with knowledge of the incident who was not authorized to speak on behalf of the theater department told USA TODAY Sports the audience Tuesday largely drew from an introductory theater appreciation class, which is a fine arts elective that the university's freshmen can choose. The person attributed much of the reaction to the audience being made up primarily of first-semester freshmen.
The play is based on the murder of Matthew Shepard, a University of Wyoming student who was killed in 1998 due to his sexual orientation.
Garrison Gibbons, a 20-year old acting major at Ole Miss who was in the play, said by phone Thursday the atmosphere at Tuesday's performance was "radically different" and that actors had heard gay slurs from the audience and laughter at moments in the play that weren't intended to be funny, including a funeral scene.
"They were laughing at lines that spoke in negative ways about gay people," Gibbons said.
Gibbons added that he felt "an incredible amount of judgment and laughter" while delivering a monologue in the play in which his character comes out as gay, including audience members taking pictures of him with their iPhones, which he said "appalled" him. He said the cast was later told after the play's second act that the group of football players in the audience were going to apologize after the show.
The cast, however, did not believe the apology was sincere, Gibbons said.
"One spoke up and said they were sorry and didn't mean to hurt our feelings," Gibbons said. "Another said they found humor in the play and then they were gone and the academic advisor who was with them basically said they had never been to a play before and didn't know what to expect."
Gibbons said he did not want players to be suspended for games but rather to learn lessons and help create a better atmosphere for gay students on campus.
"Even though it was a negative event, it made us positive this is why we need to do this show because we need to open the minds of people on this campus -- not just athletes," Gibbons said. "I don't want to see them being punished, that's not doing anything positive. I want to see everyone get involved in showing their support for LGBT and equality. We have all these pride events going on but we need support behind them.
According to Rory Ledbetter, the faculty member who spoke to the student newspaper, football players weren't the only individuals using such speech, but they did seem to "initiate others in the audience to say things, too."
hate speech" in verbally harassing student actors during a university theater production of The Laramie Project.
"The football players were certainly not the only audience members that were being offensive last night," Ledbetter said. "It seemed like they didn't know that they were representing the university when they were doing these things."
An Ole Miss athletic department spokesman didn't immediately respond to an e-mail from USA TODAY Sports, and athletics director Ross Bjork didn't respond to a text message seeking comment.
Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze tweeted Thursday morning, "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."