Hate Speech and Homophobia: Ole Miss Football and Political Correctness

By Terry Waldrop
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Students at the University of Mississippi, including 24 freshman football players, attended a play produced by the theater department. Their attendance was part of the requirement for their introductory theater course. The play centered on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and based on historical teachings in the Bible.

During the course of the play, cast members reported that some audience members, including football players, began laughing, heckling and making intolerant and hate-filled remarks about the death of Jesus.

The university issued an official statement stating the behavior was inappropriate, insensitive and hate speech was not going to be tolerated. All students, including the football players attending the play, were going to be immediately required by the university to attend a sensitivity training session led by university professors to learn why hate speech toward Christians is unacceptable.

Additionally, Ole Miss suspended all of the football players in attendance to make them aware their lack of  of tolerance against Christians was unacceptable. The university president called this a teachable moment.

The above narrative is of course fictional. If it were true, can you imagine the outrage of university professors worldwide invoking the cries of academic freedom, the ACLU marching in and rightfully championing the First Amendment Right of Free Speech on behalf of the punished students having to submit themselves to Christian sensitivity training?

Most mainstream media outlets in the world would be clamoring for the jobs of the president on down to the custodian. How could such a play that focused on Jesus even be allowed on campus, a multitude would ask? How were Muslim, atheist and gay students forced to go to a play based on such intolerant viewpoints as the Christian religion?

Required for a freshman theater course was that Ole Miss Students attend a play entitled the “Laramie Project”.  The play is based on the tragic death of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was tortured and murdered in 1998.  The case received international attention as much of the focus centered on Shepard being targeted specifically because he was gay.

While no such hate crime law existed at the time, the two individuals convicted in Shepard’s murder will likely and rightfully spend the rest of their lives in jail. Later in 2009, President Barack Obama signed the hate crimes bill into law and Matthew Shepard’s case was cited as one of the catalysts for the controversial landmark legislation.

Around 200 students gathered in early October on the Ole Miss campus to view the Laramie Project production. Slurs and inappropriate comments were made by some audience members. Likely one remark led to another, and as can happen with any large group of people, the laughter, snickers and crudeness spread throughout the youthful captive audience.

An adult theater department member called the football office, and a coach was dispatched immediately to the theater. As the play was a three-act production, the coach took immediate corrective action and had the players apologize to the cast members after the first act.

Did the coach believe having the players apologize was the correct action to take, and in doing so make it a teachable moment for the players? Did the coach have ulterior motives and hope he could limit the accompanying media circus that a gay-bashing Ole Miss Rebel football players headline would surely bring?

The murder of Matthew Shepherd was horrific, as is anyone’s murder. The Laramie Project production claims to foster bringing awareness to such crimes and making attendees reflect on their own attitudes and beliefs. This seems to promote colleges as places to foster free and independent thought by the students and to explore and form original ideas about life, culture, faith, others and themselves. It shouldn’t be a way station to simply regurgitate the status quo spin and propaganda of the politically correct or politically incorrect who are always both trolling  for zombies.

I would suggest that allowing young people to think for themselves and acknowledging that we don’t all share the same religions, political views, beliefs, and even values is important.  What is lost in the politically-correct charged environment these days is civility and respect, especially even more so towards those you don’t happen to agree with. Free speech, while still our right, isn’t necessarily without consequences.

Terry Waldrop was a long time college basketball coach and AD.  He also is a writer for RantSports.com.    Follow him on Twitter @terrywaldrop, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google

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