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Ole Miss must ban players -- now

Image: Matthew Shepard was murdered 15 years ago (Robert Giroux/Getty Images)
Matthew Shepard was murdered 15 years ago.
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Clay Travis

Clay Travis has been a columnist for CBSSports.com, FanHouse, and an editor/writer for Deadspin. He's written two books, Dixieland Delight and On Rocky Top, hosts a daily radio show in Nashville and appears on FS1's "FOX College Saturday."

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Let's get right to the point here — Ole Miss has to suspend every single football player who they find was involved in allegedly hurling gay slurs during a campus play Tuesday night about Matthew Shepard's murder.

CANDY FOR THE EARS

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Period.

I love the South, it's my home and always will be my home, but I hate ignorance much more than I love the South.

And we have way too much ignorance down here, always have.

Ole Miss has to take a stand against ignorance of all kinds and suspend whatever football players are found to be involved. The school also needs a major wake-up call. I'd suggest a campus-wide examination of gay rights.

And if Ole Miss won't suspend these players, then the SEC needs to do it.

Already people are tweeting me about "free speech," and asking why the "liberal media" cares so much about this story.

First, learn how to make better arguments. You have the right to say or write anything in this country thanks to the First Amendment. It's the single most important freedom we have. So you can type "your gay," to people you disagree with to your heart's content on Twitter and neither the government nor spellcheck can do anything to you.

What you don't have is freedom from consequences. Right now, the government isn't arresting or investigating Ole Miss players for allegedly behaving like boorish idiots. But the public is reacting with complete and total disgust to a story that shocks it.

Second, I'm not a member of the "liberal media," whatever that is. I'm about as middle of the road as it comes in the country. I'm anti-idiot and pro-markets, this means I can believe in evolution and support American industry. Shocker, I know.

The reason this is a big story is for the same reason most stories become viral these days on the Internet — because the story is shocking and people can't believe what they're reading. The rest of the country is in complete and total disbelief that Mississippi college students — ostensibly the smartest, youngest and most cosmopolitan citizens of the Magnolia State — would do something like this during a live performance about intolerance.

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Per the original article, which received so much Internet traffic Thursday the entire website was unavailable for much of the morning:

According to the play’s director and theater faculty member Rory Ledbetter, some audience members used derogatory slurs like “fag” and heckled both cast members and the characters they were portraying for their body types and sexual orientations. Ledbetter said the audience’s reactions included “borderline hate speech.”

“I am the only gay person on the cast,” junior theater major Garrison Gibbons said. “I played a gay character in the show, and to be ridiculed like that was something that really made me realize that some people at Ole Miss and in Mississippi still can’t accept me for who I am.”

(UPDATE: A later report in the Clarion Ledger cites a freshman student who says laughter was all he heard from the audience.)

It's not just hate speech, it's public hate speech in a university theater, hurled by the most famous members of the undergraduate student body.

The rest of the country is completely and totally amazed that this could happen in 2013.

If The Onion ran a headline saying, "Ole Miss students interrupt play about gay intolerance by hurling intolerant gay slurs," would you have thought it was too far-fetched?

I would have.

Then Tuesday night happened.

It's not that I'm surprised many of my fellow Southerners are exceedingly homophobic, it's that several college students at one of the state's flagship institutions also seemingly share the same beliefs. These weren't slurs reportedly uttered in private by grandpas and grandmas, they were alleged public assaults by people young enough to live in a multi-cultural society.

I spend a ton of time sticking up for the South, but here I've got no defense.

For some reason a decent segment of the Southern male population still feels like the biggest insult you can throw at another man is that he's gay.

Rather than combat every idiot one at a time on Twitter and e-mail, I've just co-opted their most stinging "insult" and raised them one level of "awfulness." OK, I'm a gay Muslim. What else do you have for me? My hope was that by ridiculing the absurdity of an insult by accepting and embracing the absurdity of that insult and then raising it to another level, it might actually cause the idiots among us to think about how stupid they look. But then I see the "first amendment" and "liberal media" tweets and I just throw up my hands in disgust.

So being gay is a sin? So you really think gay people choose to be gay?

Is this real life?

Being gay isn't a sin, because it's the way you're born.

Being stupid is a sin. Combat something you can actually control — read a damn book.

Sadly, the only way to fight idiots is with punishments and consequences, not false and empty apologies.

That's why Ole Miss needs to take the proper stand here and suspend every involved player from football this weekend. And if Hugh Freeze won't do it, then Ole Miss chancellor Daniel Jones needs to act. And if the chancellor won't act, then SEC commissioner Mike Slive needs to step in.

Thursday afternoon, university chancellor Dan Jones and athletics director Ross Bjork released a statement:

While we work to determine with certainty who disrupted the Laramie Project play, we want everyone within our university community and beyond to know that we strongly condemn the behavior exhibited Tuesday night. As a member of the Ole Miss family, each of us has a responsibility to be accountable for our actions, and these individuals will be held accountable. Our investigation will determine the degree to which any and all students were involved.

As a first step to addressing behavior at the performance Tuesday night, we will meet today with the freshman student-athletes (from various sports) who attended the play and have a dialogue about what happened, about our university-wide commitment to inclusivity and civility, and about the important role they play in representing the university. It is clear that some students badly misrepresented the culture of this university. From there, we will work with Student-Affairs and the Bias Incident Response Team to determine the facts and appropriate next steps.

Incidents like this remind all educators that our job is to prepare our students to be leaders in life during their years on campus and after they graduate from Ole Miss. This behavior by some students reflects poorly on all of us, and it reinforces our commitment to teaching inclusivity and civility to young people who still have much to learn. We will be engaging our student-athletes with leaders on the subject of individuality and tolerance, so we can further enforce life lessons and develop them to their fullest potential.

On behalf of our 22,000 students, our faculty, and our staff, we apologize.

Ole Miss has rarely been on the forefront of social progress, but at least it has the chance to do the right thing here.

Otherwise, the past really is never past at Ole Miss.

Tagged: Mississippi

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