PARRISH ALFORD: Truth must come before any punishment

PARRISH ALFORD

PARRISH ALFORD

AUBURN, Ala.

Ole Miss approached its football game with Auburn on Saturday amid calls for suspension for any players involved in the anti-gay heckling of theatre students at Tuesday’s production of “The Laramie Project.”

It has drawn national response, with even Al Jazeera America weighing in.

Rebels coach Hugh Freeze commented further on the matter on Twitter on Friday morning with a post in which he said there would be no rush to judgment and that the university wanted to find the truth just like everyone else.

The problem appears to be in the difficulty in finding the truth.

As the Daily Journal found on Thursday, the Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT) found differing accounts of what happened.

The Daily Mississippian’s news story on Thursday morning cited the play’s director, a member of the theatre faculty, who said there was use of anti-gay slurs – more than one – and that heckling extended to physical attributes of the cast or characters they were portraying.

The BIRT response speaks of the “conflicting reports” the group received while trying to hash things out.

Had there been overtly loud slurs over a sustained period of time, it would seem that more accounts would align in their recollection of events.

The number of slurs and their volume does not lessen the loss of dignity for the individuals targeted, but it does paint a different picture than the mob scene image of many 140-word accounts that have rolled along the Internet since Thursday morning.

If judgment would be found by a vote of Twitter users, Ole Miss football would be preparing its appeal right now.

Athletics director Ross Bjork told ESPN.com that as of Friday evening there were not enough facts to warrant further discipline for the players.

If new information arises, “We will follow up and act accordingly,” Bjork said.

Bjork should seek that new information. It’s OK to let BIRT take the lead on the investigation, but it’s too easy to let it stop there.

The spotlight shines brighter at Ole Miss on matters regarding discrimination.

Remember, sexual orientation is not the only issue here. There is also loss of dignity for slurs directed at cast members of different “body types” as reported by The Daily Mississippian, but BIRT’s response does not mention proposed dialogue with persons who may have suffered indignity in that regard.

Sexual orientation has made this a national story, but dignity should extend to everyone, including the accused.

It’s important to exhaust all measure to find the truth and to punish the guilty if guilt can be determined.

It’s just as important not to punish for the sake of show if it can’t.

For a program that promotes itself as one that does the right thing – whether in recruiting, competition or daily operations – it’s the right thing to do.

Parrish Alford (parrish.alford @journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at Djournal.com.