There is no instant gratification in sports. Teams don’t stumble upon championships. They are won through scouting, recruiting, free agency, and drafts. Games, independent of each other, accrue until they culminate in the ultimate victory. In this way, sports are like social reform: a series of small victories and defeats, leading towards one, hard-to-attain prize.
In the past six months American athletics has seen landmark victories in the quest for homosexual tolerance. NBA player Jason Collins became the first active basketball player to “come out of the closet.” In an interview, WNBA phenom Brittney Griner, a lesbian, discussed her sexuality as casually as she would the latest movie release. Most recently WWE superstar Darren Young revealed his homosexuality to a sport often viewed as intolerant steroid abusers. It has been a liberating half-year.
However, for every victory there comes defeat. The most recent being the actions of Ole Miss’ football players at an on-campus play.
The Daily Mississipian reports that an estimated 20 football players disrupted a production of “The Laramie Project.” The play, which tells the story of an openly gay man killed in Laramie, Wyoming, was a required assignment for an introductory theatre class. Players reportedly took pictures, yelled to female cast members, heckled other cast members, and shouted out gay slurs during the production. The play’s director compared the audience behavior to, “a borderline hate speech.”
Homophobia in sports is nothing new, but after the strides made in the past six months, this type of juvenilia seems antiquated. What’s worse, these kids are from a generation more tolerant than any in American history. Racial and sexual dynamics are not taboo anymore. As homosexuals pick up the fight for equality, begot by blacks and females, these actions go beyond boys being boys. It’s insensitivity.
In fairness to the athletes, they were not the only ones acting out. However, reports suggest that they were the catalyst for all the mayhem. A mob of bullying.
What exacerbates this situation even more is its locale. Ole Miss has never been considered progressive. In 2010 the school changed its mascot from Colonel Reb, an homage to antebellum plantation owners and southern freedom fighters, to the Rebel Black Bear. The new mascot is likely an appeasement in that it’s black, but also carries the traditional rebel name. Ole Miss, more than any other university, holds deeply to the ties and ideals of an Old South.
Once word of the players’ actions made its way to the athletics department, one player was chosen to apologize on behalf of the team. It was honorable of Hugh Freeze and his staff to mandate an apology, though theatre department members aren’t sure the athletes understood the need for an apology.
The Ole Miss players’ actions and lack of awareness illustrate a two-fold disconnect between the team and society. First, it shows that they either don’t understand bullying, or have no concern. There is a lot of machismo and testosterone flowing in locker rooms. Coaches—not just at Ole Miss or college, but all coaches amateur and professional—should hold periodic sensitivity seminars. They should demonstrate the differences in life. There are more subsects than black/white or man/women. Enlighten players to a world outside the locker room. Teach them how to be stewards of society.
Next, the Ole Miss players highlighted a disconnect that occurs on every campus. There is the segregation between players and the general student body. On the field it’s “us against them,” but outside the locker room a university should be collaborative socialization. Ole Miss’ players failed to see that they were watching a production that took a lot of practice. That it was akin to what they do every Saturday, only in a different medium. Coaches need to prepare their players for life outside the vacuum of the athletics building.
When the athletes incited the intolerant mob mentality, it was a circumstance of life imitating art, which was imitating life. Ole Miss’ players could not have missed the message of “The Laramie Project” any worse. They need perspective, and to realize the interconnectedness of life is the same as a team. Life is a bring, and we’re all chasing championships. We need more victories. This was an ugly defeat.