The first-year football coach at Mississippi State University has been reprimanded and must visit a civil rights museum after he recently shared a meme on Twitter of a woman knitting a noose, the university’s athletic director said this week.
The coach, Mike Leach, 59, who has since apologized for the post, also must participate in a series of listening sessions to “expand his cultural awareness” of the state, John Cohen, the athletic director, said in a statement on Tuesday.
The meme, which Leach posted on April 1 and later deleted, featured a black-and-white image of an older white woman with knitting needles. Its caption read, “After 2 weeks of quarantine with her husband, Gertrude decided to knit him a scarf.”
But instead of a scarf, a hangman’s knot was on the woman’s lap, an image that critics said was highly offensive and evoked the lynchings of black people in the Deep South. At least one player on the football team has announced his plans to transfer because of Leach’s tweet.
“No matter the context, for many Americans the image of a noose is never appropriate and that’s particularly true in the South and in Mississippi,” Cohen said. “Mississippi State University was disappointed in the use of such an image in a tweet by Coach Mike Leach.”
Leach, whom Mississippi State hired in January from Washington State University, expressed remorse over the post the next day.
“I sincerely regret if my choice of images in my tweets were found offensive,” Leach wrote on Thursday. “I had no intention of offending anyone.”
Fabien Lovett, 20, a defensive tackle who grew up in Vicksburg, Miss., responded to his coach on Twitter with an expletive. Lovett said in an interview on Wednesday that he was upset by Leach’s tweet and was seeking to transfer because of the post.
“We’re in the South,” Lovett said. “We’re in Mississippi. Stuff like that plays a huge role in our family, especially black men. Our ancestors were lynched.”
Lovett said he was dissatisfied with the university’s response and with Leach’s apology, which he described as insincere.
“That’s the prime example of why I need to leave Mississippi,” he said.
Mississippi State did not make Leach available for further comment on Wednesday. An athletic department spokesman referred to the statement Cohen issued on Tuesday.
“The university is confident that Coach Leach is moving quickly and sincerely past this unintended misstep and will provide the leadership for our student athletes and excitement for our football program that our fans deserve and that our students and alumni will be proud to support,” Cohen said in the statement.
Cohen said he planned to have Leach participate in listening sessions with student, alumni and community groups. Leach will also visit the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, he said.
In 2009, Texas Tech University dismissed Leach as its football coach for what it said was his mistreatment of one of his players, Adam James, a sophomore receiver who is the son of Craig James, then an ESPN broadcaster.
Leach was accused of isolating James in an equipment garage and a media room while he was sitting out practice with a concussion. Texas Tech officials said that Leach’s actions, including not signing a letter spelling out guidelines for dealing with players, and his reaction to their investigation forced them to fire him.
On Friday, Shannon Sharpe, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and a co-host of the show “Undisputed” on Fox Sports 1, criticized Leach on Twitter and on television.
“Given the history of Emmett Till and lynchings in the state of Mississippi, Mike Leach, as the head coach of Mississippi State, you seriously thought it would be cool to post a picture that had a noose in it?” Sharpe wrote.
Emmett, whose brutal murder in 1955 served as a catalyst for the civil rights movement, was tortured and lynched. He was 14. A bulletproof sign marking the spot along the Tallahatchie River where his body was found was installed last year after previous signs were vandalized.