Tuesday night, some 20 players on the Ole Miss football team attended a performance of "The Laramie Project," produced by the school's theater department, as part of a class requirement. The play is a reaction to the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, which ignited a wave of anti-hate crime legislation.
The Rebels were not pleased.
According to a report in The Daily Mississippian, Ole Miss' student newspaper: "(A)udience members used derogatory slurs like 'fag' and heckled both cast members and the characters they were portraying for their body types and sexual orientations."
The vitriol was apparently instigated by the players.
“The football players were certainly not the only audience members that were being offensive last night,” said Rory Ledbetter, the play's director and a faculty member. “But they were definitely the ones who seemed to initiate others in the audience to say things, too. It seemed like they didn’t know that they were representing the university when they were doing these things.”
There's an obvious irony to this -- "The Laramie Project" is a play mounted in response to intolerance, and homophobia specifically -- followed by an obvious reaction: once news broke of the incident, the football players were reportedly made to apologize; the school's athletic director emailed the theater department chair to apologize.
But Rene Pulliam, the department chair, told the Mississippian, “I’m not sure the players truly understood what they were apologizing for."
Auburn will face off against the Rebels this Saturday.