Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer has apologized to an LGBT group for a team rule forcing players to wear lavender shirts for “loafing” during practice.
After being alerted to the lavender shirt rule, Scarlet and Gay, an OSU alumni society, issued a letter to Meyer on Feb. 29 informing the Buckeyes’ coach that it was disappointed in the team’s choice of color.
“It’s more about us standing up for a social justice issue,” Scarlet and Gay President Tim Valentine told The Lantern Wednesday.
Meyer apologized in a letter dated March 1 addressed to Valentine and Garett Heysel, vice president of Scarlet and Gay and assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
“Thank you for sharing your concerns regarding the purple mesh pullovers,” the letter read. “The use of purple was never intended to be used to offend anyone, but since it has, we have taken steps to change the color.
“Please accept our sincere apologies. We have core values of respect and honor within our program, and these are two principles that are central to my personal life, my coaching and to Ohio State and its athletics programs. Bias has absolutely no role in how we think or operate.”
During a Feb. 15 press conference, OSU football strength coach Mickey Marotti described a new statistic kept during conditioning drills called “loafs.” A loaf is credited to a player during a moment of deceleration during a drill, Marotti said. When a second loaf is credited to a player, they’re given a lavender shirt that must be worn around the training facility.
Later in the press conference, redshirt junior linebacker Etienne Sabino said no player wants to have to wear a lavender jersey.
“You don’t want to wear those shirts at all,” Sabino said. “Just loafing in general, you don’t want to get those. The lavender (shirt) is definitely motivation not to get any loafs.”
In a Wednesday email to The Lantern, OSU athletics spokesman Jerry Emig said the football team changed the color of the mesh shirts they use. He later said he was not sure what color the new shirts were.
Valentine told The Lantern Wednesday the Scarlet and Gay board of governors decided it would take action because of the color lavender’s significance to the gay community.
“Lavender is associated as a feminine color, so it deals with masculinity,” Valentine said. “It would appear, if (lavender) was the color (of the mesh shirts), that the coaching team is trying to say, ‘If you are loafing, if you are not performing up to par then you are performing in a feminine way, and so we are going to label you with a color that makes you non-masculine.”
The decision to address the matter with Meyer wasn’t based on a desire for political correctness, though.
The color lavender has been associated with gays throughout history and even the word “lavender” itself has been used to label the LGBT community, Valentine said.
The Scarlet and Gay board of governors were striving for social justice, standing up for people — perhaps even one of Meyer’s players — that can’t stand up for themselves, Valentine said.
Meyer’s response to the organization came a day later, and Valentine said Scarlet and Gay was satisfied with the apology, as well as Meyer’s pledge to change the color of the mesh pullovers.
“(Meyer) had a very fast response,” Valentine said. “That said to us as an organization that he did care and was concerned about this being offensive to the community and a reflection of something he did not stand for.”
At least one OSU student agreed that changing the color of the mesh pullovers was warranted.
Stephen Moon, a first-year in aerospace engineering, said he did not quite understand why people would be offended but supported a change if people were offended.
“I don’t immediately associate the color purple with homosexual people,” Moon said. “But to me, it’s just a way to set people apart, to say, ‘OK, these people did this.’ If they’re offended, though, by all means, change it.”
Valentine said he is hopeful that Meyer’s apology will allow for the on-going discussion about gay student-athletes to be heightened at OSU.
“One of the things that’s known is that the hardest place to come out as an LGBTQ person is in Division I athletics, and sports in general,” he said. “That’s something we’re definitely looking forward to — some programming, some more conversation about the homophobia that does exist within athletics.”
OSU begins spring football drills on March 28 with the 2012 Spring Game set to take place April 21.
Chelsea Castle contributed to this story.