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Thursday, October 10, 2013
Freeze would take action in theater incident

By Edward Aschoff

OXFORD, Miss. -- While Ole Miss continues to investigate a disruption that occurred during a university play last week, head coach Hugh Freeze is making it clear that he would take action if needed.

Freeze said he wasn't involved in the school's Bias Incident Response Team's investigation into whether any of the estimated 20 football players in attendance for the on-campus production of "The Laramie Project" used homosexual slurs during the performance, but he told the response team he would discipline any players found to have uttered any homosexual slurs inside the auditorium the night of Oct. 1.

"If they had found that one of my players used a slur, I would have punished them," Freeze told ESPN.com Wednesday. "If they find later that one did, I'd still do it."

On Oct. 3, the Daily Mississippian, Ole Miss' student newspaper, first reported that 20 football players disrupted the play by harassing actors with "borderline hate speech" inside Meek Auditorium on Oct. 1. The play is based on the 1998 murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard.

Last Friday, Ole Miss' response team found no evidence that football players used homosexual slurs during the performance, but acknowledged that there was some sort of disturbance and required all students in the audience to attend an educational dialogue session.

Freeze said he met with his entire team to talk about the theater incident. He went through the team's core values, making sure they understood how others should be treated, "regardless of how you view anyone and their lifestyle and their choices."

"I do believe in our kids and believe that they are good people, who are still immature and make mistakes," he said. "They know one of the core values of our program is love, and we don't want anyone ever to be treated in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable or less than a valued human being. They know that."

Junior safety Cody Prewitt, one of the team's captains, said the meeting with Freeze went well and that he and other veterans talked to players about the incident again when Freeze was done.

"I trust our freshmen and I don't feel like they're stupid, and I feel like it may have been a little bit of a misunderstanding," Prewitt said. "We knew that it wasn't something hard for us to look past. We knew that it needed to be a addressed and we did address it. Stuff like that is not going to happen again."

Freeze understands this is still an ongoing investigation with the school and said he would back any future findings from the support team. And that's saying a lot.

It's clear that Freeze is fully aware that something happened inside that auditorium and he feels strongly about what occurred. What he says he doesn't know is who said what and what was exactly said. He says he wants the truth to come out and he says he will punish any of his players if the response team finds that any of them embarrassed themselves and the university by spouting any sort of hate speech that night.

Freeze isn't directly involved in the investigation, but he said he won't question anything the response team finds in the future.

"I'm going to support whatever they found the truth to be," Freeze said.

Freeze understands that he's sticking his neck out there with his words, but he doesn't seem concerned. He was passionate about his disdain for what happened and was very troubled by the initial reports. He felt embarrassed that his players were even involved in any sort of disruption said he will "absolutely" punish any players if he has to.

Freeze has dealt with mounds of both criticism and support as more facts and falsities have surfaced, but he says he's more concerned about finding the truth. If Freeze is put in the position of punishing any players because of this incident, the hope is that he would follow through with his word.

Right now, it sounds like he would.