Judy Shepard Responds To College Football Players Heckling Actors In “The Laramie Project”

Earlier this week, the University of Mississippi’s (AKA “Ole Miss”) theater department’s production of The Laramie Project, which is about the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, was interrupted by a gang of 20 or so college football players in the audience, who are reported to have heckled actors, going so far as to call one of them a “fag.”

The players were in attendance as part of a course requirement. Afterwards, they were ordered by the athletic department to apologize to the cast, but many claimed they “didn’t know what they were apologizing for,” and so the apology for the team as a whole came from one lone player. The athletic department also e-mailed the theater department chair to apologize.

Michael Barnett, assistant chair of theater arts at the school and chair of the faculty senate, told USA Today in a phone interview: “We don’t always have the best audiences, but this was taking it to a new level to be sure. There were a lot of athletes there that night, so we’re trying to identify who specifically was using hate speech.”

In an exclusive statement to Queerty, Judy Shepard said:

One thing I often see in productions of The Laramie Project is that involvement in the play sparks in them an awareness of anti-gay hate that they often would not have noticed, especially when performed at colleges and universities. Seeing how the community of Laramie, Wyoming was affected by the murder of my son as told in the play, creates a space where a community can talk about hate.

I was disappointed to see that a number of Ole Miss football players and others in the audience decided to interrupt a performance of the play using anti-gay slurs. Using hate-filled words to interrupt a play about anti-gay hate is a sad irony that only reminds me of the work we at the Matthew Shepard Foundation and each of us as individuals must undertake to help stop hate.

After significant media pressure, the university’s Chancellor, Dan Jones, and Athletics Director Ross Bjork issued a joint statement Thursday afternoon pledging that the individuals involved will be “held accountable.” They concluded by saying: “On behalf of our 22,000 students, our faculty, and our staff, we apologize.”

Mississippi, where openly gay mayoral candidate Marco McMillian was brutally murdered and set on fire in February of this year, does not currently have a hate crimes law that extends to sexual orientation. President Obama signed legislation extending the federal hate crimes law to sexual orientation in 2009. The law was named after Matthew Shepard.

In other news: “Go To Hell Ole Miss” t-shirts are currently available on Ebay for just $17.50.

Get Queerty Daily

Subscribe to Queerty for a daily dose of #judyshepard #marcomcmillian #matthewshepard stories and more


  • Dakotahgeo

    What can a normal person say except: Mississippi… South… redneck… inbred. Simple, and in only four words! Not to miss the fact that they are not alone in the South to have such mindsets, nor are they in the majority. At the same time, they are all over the age of 18+ and one wonders just how far ahead in thinking their parents are. Scary?!

  • rk8289

    @Dakotahgeo: Believe me, as a recent graduate of Ole Miss, no one could be more disappointed than me to hear something like this coming from my school. It’s unsurprising that these players (the majority of whom, if not all, are freshmen and have been at the school for less than two months, and likely as not are not actually from the state) would have a reaction like this, considering the appalling lack of education on gay rights and and other human rights issues in schools and homes throughout the country. At the same time, blaming an institution or an entire state or student body for the terrible actions of a few, and limiting us to stereotypes is neither fair nor productive. Instead you give in to harmful stereotypes, which as gay people we ought to know better than to be careless about. I don’t think I have to remind anyone that hate is not a purely or even mostly southern phenomenon, as the recent homophobic murders and attacks in New York might attest. I hope as we confront this situation, we can remember that the only way forward from hate and ignorance like this is through love and education–(an education which in which staging a play like The Laramie Project is in itself a step in the right direction).

  • Dakotahgeo

    @rk8289: I mistakenly thought that I had made it clear that my descriptors were not covering ALL southern people or southern states. I did not do that and for that I apologize. Having said that, I have relatives and friends in the southern tier of states and they are the first to be embarrassed by their respective states. AS I AM when I wince at now being a Kansan, formerly from Missouri, born and raised in North Dakota (both of which are twice the state Kansas is but just as backward!) I guess I’m just naïve enough to think that some day soon, the bigots, and those with lower IQs will come around but… hope springs eternal! I still squirm and fidget when I read stories like this and think to myself, “Again???!?”

  • jwrappaport

    This is exactly the kind of nonsense I saw from the USC football team when I had the misfortune of being in a class with any of the players. And then I transferred. And then I saw more of the same. I look forward to the day when our institutions of higher learning become more than daycares for jocks (or rich idiots for that matter).

    I always wonder what archaeologists will make of our great universities in a thousand years. I suspect they’ll wonder why every last one of them, from the Ivy League to Podunk State, had a massive stadium attached.

  • stranded

    20 bucks says the guy who yelled out fag, has either had dick in his mouth or jacks off to the idea.

  • Teleny

    Nothing worse than a bunch of testosterone laden str8 men feeling empowered to bash lbgt people.

  • rk8289

    @Dakotahgeo: I do the same thing. And unfortunately we’ve had more than our share of other facepalm-worthy controversies over the past few years at Ole Miss :P Coincidentally, I think we have to share the blame for Westboro (Fred Phelps is originally from Mississippi but set up shop in Kansas-ugh). Ironically, WBC picketed Ole Miss in May for “bowing to the football god” and being “fag-enablers.” We just can’t win!!!

  • Texasteacher

    The article states that the reason the players were in attendance were due to a course requirement. I understand the professor’s intent is to propel his students toward acceptance, but requiring attendance of a play to which they are closed minded didn’t work and even ruined the experience for the willing audience. You can’t force tolerance, because with some it comes more easily through boredom (getting used to seeing and knowing gays) than enlightenment.

  • avesraggiana

    This is why it is absolutely critical, and just plain waaaaay cool, that one day, a nationally renown NCAA DIV ONE football star comes out, specifically, a FOOTBALL star. Football because that sport is still so widely revered as the last remaining societal bastion for the true, manly, All-American, thoroughly masculine, thoroughly macho, red-blooded, heterosexual American male. Protest all you want, but male figure skating and diving are not sports in the same sense that “FUP-BOHL” is a sport. Even swimming, tennis and track-and-field don’t cut it as “Real Men’s Sports” among the subset of American males I’m talking about.

    Talk about blowing a deeply held stereotype to smithereens! An Out and Proud college football star with real talent and real renown would show these young, putatively straight dimwits like this that We Homosexuals are EVERYWHERE, not just the girly, nelly, flamboyant ones that even they can make out, but even amongst their uber-straight, uber-macho, uber-masculine number too.

    Come out, Tim Tebow, wherever you are, even though your college days are now a few years behind you!

  • ncman

    @avesraggiana: Come out Tim Tebow??? I thought you said successful !!

  • avesraggiana

    @ncman: You know, you’re right…dang. I don’t care what a lousy QB he turned out to be, I’d still want to be clamped to immobility by his big, beefy thighs…

    Did I digress?

  • Spike

    To be expected from a SEC school.

  • greyhound1954

    @Texasteacher: With all due respect, I think you’re wrong. I applaud Ole Miss and the teacher for the course requirement. I don’t view this as “forcing tolerance”; this is an opportunity to learn. This play represented multiple teaching moments. The first is the play itself, which offered attendees a dramatic lesson in acceptance (obviously, some of the athletes flunked this part). Another lesson is that attending a cultural event isn’t the same as going to the movies; there is a certain etiquette involved (obviously, they flunked this part, too). Another lesson is respect: for the play, for the actors, for fellow audience members, for the class instructor; for the university, and finally, for oneself. Ole Miss knows now what it has on its hands: a group of immature freshmen in need of extra help. I’m against any suspensions. I’d rather see a more fitting punishment, such as having to construct sets for a future play, or having to write and deliver a report on The Laramie Project. Finally, this course should continue to be offered and made a requirement for student-athletes.

  • macmantoo

    To those yelling the “f” word, I wonder what their reaction would be if someone called them the “N” word? And while this is a Mississippi school, not all students are there from Mississippi.

  • TheNewEnergyDude

    but many claimed they “didn’t know what they were apologizing for,”??????


  • mlbumiller

    Just the fact that the team members we so disrespectful to the cast alone in my book should have caused them a few games of play since they were there as a team. That on top of it that they were using hate speach makes it even worse. GREYHOUND1954 is right on the money!

  • OhioMan

    What does one expect…after all it is Mississippi…enough said….

  • Dakotahgeo

    @OhioMan: As you will see in my comment No. 1, I made the same assumption. However, I refer you back to No. 2 and 3 for a much better take on this whole situation. I can name plenty of states that would fit in very easily in the Mississippi mind set. Have a read and think about this again. Thanks.

  • Daniel-Reader

    They should expel the entire team who attended the event, and give their positions to more deserving athletes.

  • OhioMan

    @Dakotahgeo: I read your Nos 1 – 2 – 3 and still come up with the same thoughts…It happened at Ole Miss…in front of any audience which included Ole Miss Football players. Were they not taught they represent the Ole Miss football team and in turn the whole state of Mississippi? This would not occur in Columbus,Ohio in front of OSU football players….and if it were..they would be expelled. Again I say ..what does one expect it is Mississippi.

  • Dakotahgeo

    Well, generally, Ohio indeed has more class than most southern states and yes, expulsion would be the least discipline meted out! Kudos.

  • CeciliaRooney

    My Uncle Caleb recently got a new yellow Kia Rio Sedan just by parttime work from a macbook… go to website,,,

  • Atomicrob

    The name “ole miss” conjures up an image of a 86 year old maiden aunt. Anyway, as someone else here said, it’s Mississippi…

  • avesraggiana

    @abnerbha: I don’t believe you. In any case, none of what you’ve written warranted Matthew Shepard’s murder or the manner in which it occurred.

Comments are closed.