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Oct 05, 2013 04:09 AM EDT

Ole Miss Football Players Apologise for Using Gay Slurs During ‘The Laramie Project’ Performance

Laramie Project participents standing in the back from left to right: Rachel Staton, Kaleb Mitchell, Adam Brooks, Nathan Burke, Garrison Gibbons, Nathan Ford, Darby Burghard, Taylor Dunn.
(Photo : Ole Miss) Laramie Project participents standing in the back from left to right: Rachel Staton, Kaleb Mitchell, Adam Brooks, Nathan Burke, Garrison Gibbons, Nathan Ford, Darby Burghard, Taylor Dunn. Seated in the front, from left to right: Jade Genga, Jake Johnson, Cayley Smith.

University of Mississippi football players apologized for yelling offensive anti-gay slurs during the school's theatre department production of the play 'The Laramie Project,' Tuesday night.

"Several of the students said they did not feel the apology was genuine," Michael Barnett, the assistant theatre chair, told NY Daily News. "They seemed to feel that (the football players) didn't realize what it was that they were apologizing for."

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'The Laramie Project' is the story of Matthew Shepard, a 20-year-old University of Wyoming student, who was a victim of a hate crime and murdered in 1998. The incident was first reported by The Daily Mississippian, an Ole Miss Student paper, according to USA Today.

According to Aljazeera, the freshmen were required to view the play as a part of a theater course, and it is believed they used the word 'fag' and criticized the body types of performers on stage. 

A University coach said that around 20 players of the Ole Missi football team, who were present in the audience, disrupted the show several times by verbally harassing student actors through insults and disparaging comments.

Barnett said that several student actors complained about 'derogatory terms'  that were used during the course of the play. Barnett said that members of the audience also took pictures on their phone and laughed at inappropriate moments, including during a funeral scene.

"As the subject matter became more uncomfortable, some, but not all, of the students were acting in an inappropriate manner," Barnett said. "The most concerning part was the hate speech that was used."

Garrison Gibbons, a 20-year-old acting major who was part of the play, told USA TODAY that the mood during Tuesday's performance was 'radically different' when compared to other performances. Gibbons also said that he felt 'an incredible amount of judgment and laughter' while presenting a monologue in the play in which his character reveals himself as gay. At the time, when the audience members began taking pictures of him with their iPhones, he said it 'appalled' him.

"They were laughing at lines that spoke in negative ways about gay people," Gibbons said.

Gibbons doesn't want the university officials to impose strict punishments on the athletes such as suspension for games. He says it is better to educate them on cultural, social and human diversities to create a better atmosphere in the  campus.

Ole Miss Chancellor Dan Jones and athletic director Ross Bjork released a statement saying 'we strongly condemn the behavior exhibited Tuesday night.' The statement also said that the incident included freshman athletes from several different sports and it was 'clear that some students badly misrepresented the culture of this university.'

"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," the statement said. "Our investigation will determine the degree to which any and all students were involved."

"The task of identifying specific individuals who were purported to have disrupted the performance is difficult because of the dark theatre, and initial reports vary in regard to the frequency, volume and source of the comments or disruption. Although initial reports indicate that student-athletes led the action, it is important to note that this has not been verified and they were not the only students present. Reports indicate that comments were made by student athletes and students but no report has singled out a specific student or mentioned any names," the university's Bias Incident Response Team said in a statement.

The team has recommended steps  to avoid such behavior during future performances.

© 2014 University Daily News, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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