Former Ole Miss basketball star Marshall Henderson said Monday that his derogatory tweet about linebacker Michael Sam was meant as a project to gather information for a friend who is deciding whether to tell family and friends about his sexual orientation.
"My stance on gay athletes is irrelevant," Henderson told ESPN by phone. "The whole reason we chose to do this is because my friend is gay. If it was wrong for me to do it, so be it."
Henderson tweeted the following on Monday morning, two days after Sam was taken by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh and final round of the NFL draft:
"Boycotting sportscenter til this michael sam nasty [expletive, expletive] is off .... My brothers are 7 and 11 and saw that!!! #SICKENING"
An hour later, Henderson followed with tweets explaining his rationale for the initial comment.
One of my best friends, WHO IS GAY, is about to graduate in psychology, asked me to say these things so he can have responses ... TBC- marshall henderson (@NativeFlash22) May 12, 2014
The point of his study was to see how people react when others say things or act a certain way against another group of people ... TBC- marshall henderson (@NativeFlash22) May 12, 2014
Henderson told ESPN that his friend, who does not attend Ole Miss, asked him to tweet out something on Sam a couple of weeks ago, but he declined at the time.
However, after watching Sam get drafted and seeing his younger brothers' reaction to the display of affection between Sam and his boyfriend on television, Henderson decided to post the comment on Twitter.
After a flurry of backlash, Henderson sent another tweet less than an hour later saying "Im sorry, but I DO NOT AGREE WHATSOEVER that should be shown to where innocent eyes can see!!!"
"I saw their reactions and thought we've got something brewing here," Henderson said. "I knew I was sticking my neck out there doing it, but I wanted to see how people reacted."
"What better way to get research and feedback than to do it like I did," Henderson added. "Everything I did is a psychologist and educator's dream."
THANK YOU MICHAEL SAM FOR STANDING UP FOR YOU AND MAKING THIS WHOLE PROJECT POSSIBLE!!! TRYING TO BRIDGE THE GAP ONE DAY AT A TIME!!- marshall henderson (@NativeFlash22) May 12, 2014
Henderson said he plans to meet with his friend Tuesday in the Dallas area, where Henderson lives.
"He's scared," Henderson said. "He hasn't come out of the closet. His family doesn't know."
"The point of this was to see the reaction," he added, "and if he could feel more comfortable in his coming-out process."
The enigmatic Henderson, who averaged 19 points per game last season for the Rebels, became known for his taunting and other antics over the past two seasons at Ole Miss. He led the Rebels to the NCAA tournament in 2013 -- where he was reprimanded by the NCAA after an outburst -- and missed three games this season due to a drug-related suspension.
Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork tried to distance the university from Henderson's comments on Twitter:
I'm extremely disappointed & we do not condone the statements made by our former bball player. We believe in respect & dignity for all......- Ross Bjork (@RossBjorkAD) May 12, 2014
We use significant resources to educate our student-athletes about respect & dignity for all people & unfortunately not everyone gets it....- Ross Bjork (@RossBjorkAD) May 12, 2014
Henderson told ESPN he has signed with an agent and is hoping to play professionally. He is not one of the 60-plus players invited to this week's NBA draft combine, and he is not expected to be selected in the draft on June 26.
He said he is moving to Philadelphia soon, where his agent is based, and plans to participate in The Basketball Tournament, an event that begins June 6 in which the winning team will claim $500,000. Henderson said he is on a team with former NBA players Hakim Warrick and Reggie Williams.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.