Open letter to Ole Miss educators

Brendon Ayanbadejo is a 10-year NFL veteran who last played with the Super Bowl XLVII champion Baltimore Ravens and is a staunch supporter of same-sex marriage rights. For more information, visit: http://www.brendonayanbadejo.net/

An Open Letter to the Educators at the University of Mississippi:

Colleges are places of higher education. Unfortunately, all of life’s lessons can not be taught within the confines of classrooms.

That was never clearer than Tuesday night when the University of Mississippi reportedly saw 20 members of its football team along with other students behave inappropriately at a performance of "The Laramie Project," a play dedicated to the tragic and senseless killing of Matthew Shepard.

The murder happened 15 years ago this weekend. For all the progress that has been made in the area of inclusivity, the act in Oxford this week spotlights how much distance needs to still be covered.

I am here, as a board member of Athlete Ally, to offer my services to address — and enlighten — the faculty, coaches and athletes at the University of Mississippi on the critical issues in this area.

One would have hoped since a billion people watched the Super Bowl on Feb. 3 that Ole Miss would have a greater understanding of the LGBT community.

Leading up to the game, one of the major headlines was about Chris Culliver of the San Francisco 49ers and his homophobic remarks regarding the possibility of playing with a gay teammate.

Not only have we seen damage control in the NFL over the last several years, we also seen the same in MLB and the NBA when it comes to having to deal with homophobic language in the big three American sports.

In all of the incidents, we witnessed national apologies, sensitivity training — that included community outreach in the LGBT community — and we also saw some heavy fines levied.

This leads me to my next question: What is going to happen to the Ole Miss football players that reportedly disrupted the play?

“The Laramie Project” is a true story about Shepard a young gay college student who was abducted, tortured, beaten, chained to a fence and left to die in the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming, on this weekend in 1998.

Shepard made the ultimate sacrifice. The taking of his life brought national attention to hate crime awareness and legislation.

The alleged behavior of Ole Miss football players along with freshmen from other sports and students attending the play to fulfill some underclassmen requirements is abhorrent and unacceptable.

I blame the administration as much as I blame the athletes. This is a graphic play and a graphic production. People need to have an idea of what they are getting themselves into.

In no way do I condone this behavior but you need to have a conversation with these athletes when they set foot on any campus as to what is expected from them as representatives of the university.

This is why the work of Athlete Ally and groups like the Gay Straight Alliance, which serves as a bridge for gay and straight students in high school to form an alliance of inclusivity and nondiscriminatory behavior, is so important.

Unfortunately everyone was not raised with the morality and values to treat all people equally.

A representative of the Ole Miss athletes allegedly apologized — after being prompted by a member of the school’s academic staff — but many didn’t quite understand what they were apologizing for.

We see this epidemic affecting not only our youth but professional athletes, men and women as well.

As a board member for Athlete Ally, we have been proactive and provide sensitivity training to many schools from elementary up to university level, professional sports teams and corporations as well.

Organizations like Athlete Ally, GLAAD, HRC, GLSEN and the Trevor Project will continue to work tirelessly until everyone knows and understands that homophobia will not be tolerated and is no different than racism or sexism.

So before Ole Miss is quick to hand down punishment I would like to see them take a more holistic and proactive approach in educating students and student athletes alike. All you have to do is reach out and I will be happy to discuss how I can help you take the next step.

Respectfully,

Brendon Ayanbadejo