Was Coy Sheppard subjected to homophobic bias for wearing pink cleats?

Was Coy Sheppard subjected to homophobic bias for wearing pink cleats?
Coy Sheppard

In one of those seemingly never ending shake your head moments occurring more frequently these days, comes this story from Mendenhall, Miss., where a 17-year-old high school football player was kicked off his team last month, and not for the familiar reasons of his using drugs, getting caught with booze at a party or worse.

Nope. Coy Sheppard, a Mendenhall High School senior, who by the way was the star kicker for the Mendenhall Tigers until his coach booted him off the team, was summarily tossed when he came to a practice wearing pink cleats.

Now, here’s the thing, this youngster had been known for his showing up and playing on the team for his career wearing different color cleats. Apparently though, the hyper-masculine head coach Chris Peterson took offense at the color selection this time round.

Sheppard tried to point out that he had worn those exact same cleats a few days before in a game — which the coach and his staff had ridiculed him, according to Sheppard — but Coach Peterson was having none of it.

Many youth in his position would have likely thought to only challenge the coach’s decision by going to the principal and complaining. Not Sheppard, he sued him and the school officials. The reason? As it turns out, October was Breast Cancer Awareness month, and Coy’s cleats were a gift from his 82-year-old great grandmother, a breast cancer survivor.

Commenting on the lawsuit against the Simpson County School District, deputy superintendent, Tom Duncan, insisted that Sheppard was kicked off the team for failing to follow his coaches’ instructions, not for the color of the shoes. He told reporters:

“It had absolutely nothing to do with lack of support for breast cancer awareness,” Duncan said.

NFL teams across the country sported pink in October to raise awareness to breast cancer.

Oh really Mr. Duncan? Apparently you didn’t get the memorandum. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, October was all about the color pink. All of the Major League Sports players wore pink wristbands. The NFL teams wore pink wristbands, pink-edged baseball hats, and, get this Mr. Duncan and Coach Peterson, in some cases, pink cleats.

In defense of his son, Joey Sheppard told a local reporter for WAPT-TV that he understood not being disrespectful of Coach Peterson’s authority:

“I do understand and we don’t condone being disrespectful to the coaches, but he was standing up for what he thought was right. … he’s had five or six different colored shoes throughout his last two years of kicking for Mendenhall and when he got the pink shoes that’s when it became an issue. I think it is the pink shoes.”

Yes Mr. Sheppard, I’d say so, after all, this is Mississippi where just last week 12-year-old Randi Foster was beaten because she has a boy’s name. Then too this is the state where Constance McMillen wasn’t allowed to take her same sex gender date to her high school prom and where young Ceara Sturgis was told she couldn’t wear her tuxedo for her senior portrait.

Pink Shoes? Oh you just know what was running through the minds of Peterson and his coaching staff.

Of course, they’ll deny that a homophobic reaction had any thing to do with their decision… yeah, right.

When the story made national headlines, Oliver Diaz, Sheppard’s lawyer and a former Mississippi state Supreme Court justice told reporters, “I wish it could have been handled differently, where there could have been some compromise, I think all the kid wants is to play football and finish out the year.”

All the kid wanted to do was play football, Okay.

What is telling about the character of this young man was that in the lawsuit he filed all he demanded was that he received official reinstatement on the team, his personal record to be cleared, and then Sheppard specified that any monetary damages or donations to go straight to the American Cancer Society. This kid’s a class act and a definite role model in my book.

The story has a positive outcome for young Sheppard, who on Thursday agreed to withdraw his suit after school officials apparently relented.

“The school district recognized mistakes were made and we were able to get the best results for everybody,” his attorney, Oliver Diaz, told WAPT-TV. “In the process, we were able to raise awareness about breast cancer campaigns. It’s a win for everybody.”

Diaz said the player’s family has agreed to drop a lawsuit filed against the coach, principal and the school system under the condition that Sheppard returns to the team with the same standing he had before the incident.

Same standing? Maybe, but then again this incident speaks volumes about this charming attitude that is prevalent not only in just Mississippi, but across the entire American landscape.

LGBT youth in the United States are killing themselves in alarming and increasing numbers and here’s a straight kid who is victimized by the same cultural pressures and nonsense responsible for those deaths.

I wonder how long its going to take for Americans to get the message?

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