How Feminism Could Have Saved Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss
I am your typical Ole Miss fan. My whole family went there. I was raised to revere The Grove, the Manning family, and devote Saturdays to my beloved Rebels. I’ve never lost a party.
I am not your typical Ole Miss fan. My family isn’t from Mississippi. I was raised to question the church, fight the patriarchy, and devote my time to supporting social justice issues like marriage equality. Yet, I’ve still never lost a party.
Based on this simultaneous existence, you can see why the news surrounding the football program at my alma mater has been both complicated and disappointing, yet not entirely surprising to me. If you’re not up to speed, here’s the quick story. Ole Miss has been battling an NCAA investigation resulting in all kinds of problems. We took ourselves out of Bowl contention for 2018. We’ve lost scholarships. We’ve certainly lost respect. Our former coach, Houston Nutt, is suing Ole Miss for breach of contract since many of the violations occurred under his watch, and he feels the University wrongly defamed him. With the help of a Mississippi State fan, phone records for our most recent coach, Hugh Freeze, were obtained, given to Nutt’s legal team, and showed a one-minute phone call to an escort service based in Tampa, FL.
On July 20th, Freeze abruptly resigned, and Athletic Director, Ross Bjork expressed that he exhibited a “pattern of personal misconduct” which means this one-minute call wasn’t exactly a butt dial, so to speak. Reports have since been posted that the “misconduct” with regard to this phone call was for his personal use, clearing up the fear many fans held that he was making these calls on behalf of the players. Thank heaven for small favors.
The women of the SEC are notorious for their rabid fandom and well-documented understanding of the game. Case in point, I attended the Ole Miss Ladies Football Forum in 2016 with about 500 other incredible female Ole Miss fans. We all knew the players without introduction, and we all had opinions about what had gone right and wrong for our team over the last 50 years or so. We were riding the high of having beat Alabama, LSU, Mississippi State in a single season, and our first Sugar Bowl victory in 46 years. It was a great time to be a Rebel.
The forum was also a strange event given the caliber of the women attendees. Freeze gave a fairly long presentation about his Freeze Foundation, a religiously focused charity. Local vendors were set up throughout the practice facility to promote shopping. We toured the locker room, tape room, and gym. We spent an extraordinary amount of time in the new basketball facility which seemed odd, but I guess they wanted us to get excited about basketball too.
What was lacking in the event was extensive discussion about football. If you came to learn more about the strategy and work of our team, you were left somewhat empty. But you were definitely CLEAR about the religious faith of Hugh Freeze. Plus, you got a cookbook! Make no mistake, I had a wonderful time celebrating our team and reuniting with my family and friends in attendance, but as a feminist football fan of a public University, I felt like I’d traveled back to a time where women were focused on shopping, cooking, and Jesus.
I can’t say this was surprising. Freeze had penchant for publicly proclaiming his faith every chance he got during his career. This included regularly posted Bible verses on his twitter account for which he received criticism. The Freeze family also attends a church where, according to their website, the leadership of the Oxford branch is comprised completely of men, and will not perform same sex marriages.
Prior to his exit, fans of both our team and his beliefs often came to his defense. They looked to him a success story in doing two of the most important things in the South – bringing young men to Jesus and winning football games. (The order of that importance varies depending on who you ask.) It was that same faith which he shared with quarterback Chad Kelly that helped turn a player with a history of bad behavior into a straight arrow leader of his team. Up until July 20th, Freeze was killing it among evangelicals.
It is here that I will introduce a term not usually involved with a discussion of football – feminism. Some of the most important tenants of modern feminism include but are not limited to the acknowledgement of the equality of the sexes ( Ephesians 5:23: For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.), the support of sexual orientation and gender as a spectrum (Leviticus 20:13: If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.), and decriminalization of sex work (Proverbs 23:27-28: for An adulterous woman is a deep pit, and a wayward wife is a narrow well. Like a bandit she lies in wait and multiplies the unfaithful among men.). Belief in the Bible does NOT exclude you from being a feminist, but feminism is not a go-to philosophy of Southern Christians.
Let me be clear that I’m not here to kick a man while he’s down. I don’t care if he used an escort service or had experiences with sex workers. I don’t judge him for that. None of us know the situation in his marriage, what agreements were or were not made, and what actually transpired between Freeze and a Tampa business. Unlike some fans, I don’t expect an apology.
What does stick out to me is what we all too often know to be the case around the culture of Southern football. It’s woefully behind. I can’t help but feel like some good old-fashioned feminism could’ve positively influenced Hugh Freeze, a man attending a church entirely led by men, working on a coaching staff consisting entirely of men, and leading a team where all of the players are men under a male athletic director at a University that has only ever been run by men.
Women know football and love football. Feminism in football is not just inviting women to spend a Saturday afternoon in the middle of the summer wandering around deciding which Ole Miss scarf to purchase and get a picture with the Coach after he tells you about God. We’re looking for the kind of feminism where women are invited as equals to lead your church, coach your players, and eventually lead a University about which we can all be proud. It’s worth considering.
Katie Ward is an Ole Miss alumna, actor, writer, and host of The Enthusiasm Enthusiast podcast. Twitter/IG @katiefward