WASHINGTON, February 1, 2013 — Hard to believe such words came out of a 49er’s mouth just days before Super Bowl LXVII. Didn’t Chris Culliver, the 49ers cornerback, understand whom he plays for? The name of the team is the San Francisco 49ers, for Pete’s sake.
Sure, some football players probably have a bias or two against gays or gay marriage, but usually they keep their opinions to themselves.
Not number 29. He blasted the idea of having to play with a gay teammate, telling radio host Artie Lange: “I don’t do the gay guys, man. I don’t do that. No, we don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do.
“Can’t be with that sweet stuff. Nah…can’t be…in the locker room man. Nah.”
True there are no openly gay players in the NFL or any of the major sports for that matter, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. Many have come out after retiring from football, such as Wade Davis, formerly of the Washington Redskins, and Kwame Harris, a former 49er who played for the team in 2007.
And yes, Harris was in court on Monday for a pre-trial appearance on charges that he assaulted a former boyfriend.
Lange asked Culliver if he felt that homosexual players should just stay quiet and in the closet while playing, and he responded: “Yeah, come out 10 years later after that.”
What makes this all the more shocking is that just last week Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Brendan Ayanbadejo made a plea for marriage equality for gays and for more anti-bullying efforts, showcasing his views during interviews and tweets. He has long been an advocate for LGBT rights, working for Maryland’s marriage equality act last year.
He explained his support of gay rights to New York Times columnist Frank Bruni last September: “I was raised around gay people in a very liberal society [Santa Cruz, Calif.]. Discrimination was never allowed.”
The San Francisco 49ers management was quick to respond Culliver’s remarks, saying: “The San Francisco 49ers reject the comments that were made yesterday, and have addressed the matter with Chris. There is no place for discrimination within our organization at any level. We have and always will proudly support the LGBT community.”
The day of reckoning came for Culliver at a media availability event on Thursday when the media swarmed him, demanding to know just what he meant, just what was he thinking.
“I was really not thinking. Or, something I thought, but not something that I feel in my heart,” Culliver told the press. “I’m sorry that I offended anyone.
“They were very ugly comments, and that’s not what I feel in my heart. Hopefully, I can learn and grow from this experience and this situation. I love San Francisco.
“I’m not trying to bring any distraction to the team. We’re trying to win a Super Bowl.”
He better say that because he has done just that, become a huge distraction, offending a lot of fans from the San Francisco and beyond, gay and straight.
Culliver said he did not see the reaction to his comments on Twitter, nor did he talk about them or the backlash with teammates. No teammate publicly defended Culliver’s opinions, but they suggested that he deserved their support and forgiveness, noting his age and lack of life experience.
The 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh told the press, “I do believe that there wasn’t malice in his heart. He’s not that kind of person. He’s not an ugly person, he’s not a discriminating person.
“He may have heard talk like that and may have thought that that those were opinions that he learned and repeated those. He regrets that. That’s not who he is. That’s not what he really believes.”
Sounds good, coach, but it is hard to alleviate such hurtful remarks with a little public relations salve. One can almost imagine the tongue-lashing Culliver got from Harbaugh and even from some of his teammates in the locker room, but if the team is to act as a unit on the field, it needs to show solidarity and understanding. That’s understandable.
But Culliver did great damage to the team’s reputation, even undermining a video [see below] that the 49ers made last summer, the first NFL team to do so that gave support to gay and lesbian teens who have been bullied. Safety Donte Whitner, defensive linemen Ricky Jean-Francois and Isaac Sapoaga and linebacker Ahmad Brooks all took part in the video, and Whitner specifically mentioned the LGBT community.
Probably the last word belongs to Ravens Brendon Ayanbadejo, who sees Culliver’s comments as a great learning moment for the country. He says that after the Super Bowl, he plans to reach out to Culliver and start a positive dialogue.
“Culliver apologized, and hopefully he’ll learn. I guarantee that his comments will be a positive thing, because it sheds so much light on him and on guys who think like him. Because a lot of guys do think like him.”
However, the truly last word may come Sunday from football fans when Chris Culliver takes to the field.
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