Mississippi State University football player Fabien Lovett announced that he was transferring after the team's new head coach, Mike Leach, posted a photo featuring a hangman's noose.
"I have entered the transfer portal with 3 years left of eligibility," said Lovett, a defensive tackle.
The photo posted last week depicts an elderly woman holding knitting sticks with the caption: "After 2 weeks of quarantine with her husband, Gertrude decided to knit him a scarf." The woman, however, wasn't knitting a scarf but rather a noose.
Many in the university community expressed disapproval.
"Lynching 'jokes' are incredibly offensive anywhere," but "especially in Mississippi," said Margaret A. Hagerman, an associate professor of sociology. In addition to deleting the tweet, she recommended that Leach visit the Memorial for Peace and Justice to learn more about "this brutal history."
Senior linebacker Erroll Thompson, who was last year's team captain, retweeted Hagerman's response and Leach's initial photo with a questioning emoji.
Leach has apologized for the offensive tweet. "I sincerely regret if my choice of images in my tweets were found offensive," Leach said. "I had no intention of offending anyone."
This isn't the first time Leach has deleted controversial tweets.
On Feb. 6, Leach wrote a thread criticizing Mitt Romney hours after he was the only Republican senator to vote against President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial.
"As an American, does ANYONE, REALLY want Mitt Romney on their side?!" Leach asked in the deleted tweet. "Those that believe in the competence of Mitt Romney, what do you trust him to do?"
In a statement Tuesday, Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen said that there was a plan in place to provide Leach with opportunities to “expand his cultural awareness of Mississippi.”
Cohen added that the Bulldogs coach will participate in “listening sessions” with students and alumni and once it is allowed, visit the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.
“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.
While Lovett did not say his decision to enter the transfer portal was related to the controversial tweet, his father Abdual Lovett told the Clarion Ledger newspaper of Jackson that he wasn’t comfortable with his son playing for Leach, “with a guy like that, from a leadership standpoint.”
Fabien also retweeted a criticism of Leach by former NFL star Shannon Sharpe.
"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 said.
Last season, Lovett finished with 19 total tackles and a sack. In 2017, he graduated from Olive Branch High School in Mississippi as a Clarion Ledger Dandy Dozen, one of the top 12 rising seniors in the state. Rated three stars out of five by 247Sports, he was offered scholarships from numerous schools, including the universities of Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.
According to the Clarion Ledger, several schools have already reached out to Lovett, who has three years of eligibility remaining.