Is the state of Mississippi ready for an openly gay college player?
That's the question clarionledger.com asked in the wake of Missouri's Michael Sam becoming the first openly gay NFL draft prospect on Sunday night. And while the answer can't be known until a gay player there chooses to make his sexual orientation public as Sam did, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze indicated he already has experience with two gay players who came to him without going public.
Freeze used the word "both", suggesting two, but declined to identify them in the interest of their privacy.
"Certainly don't want to call any names, because everybody is entitled to their privacy unless they want it to be public," he said. "I guarantee in both cases they knew the coaching staff loved them and respected them."
Freeze also didn't indicate whether those players went to Ole Miss, or if he encountered them at another coaching stop. Freeze enters his third season at Ole Miss this fall, and previously coached at Arkansas State (2010-2011) and Lambuth University, a liberal arts school in Tennessee which closed its doors for financial reasons in 2011.
Freeze had to deal with an anti-gay issue last fall when a group of his players and others in an audience at an Ole Miss play production were accused of using gay slurs toward the cast during the performance of 'The Laramie Project', about a gay college student. The school investigated but was unable to identify specific culprits. All audience members were required to attend an educational dialogue session.
"To say that are we ready? We don't know," Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork said. "We haven't had anybody approach us. But I feel confident in who we are as coaches and as administrators and as a campus. We would want someone to feel welcome and free, and to be who they are."
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen told the publication he hasn't yet been approached by a gay player.
"Chances are, there's a guy that is gay on every team," Mullen said. "It's not that big of a deal. Statistically speaking probably more than one."
According to the story, MSU tight end Rufus Warren first tweeted support for Sam Sunday night, but then tweeted that football "is a MAN sport! And being gay is not a man," later deleting the tweet and apologizing.
"The people that haven't been around it that much, there's questioning," Mullen said. " 'What kind of person is this going to be?' when you're around someone that is new -- especially with young kids. But you educate them and teach them that there's nothing really different. It's the same person you knew."