Super Bowl competitor receives wide criticism
Culliver’s comments reflect the prejudice of athletic culture
Published: Sunday, February 3, 2013
Updated: Sunday, February 3, 2013 16:02
Perhaps San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver was just a bit too excited about the big game to remember to think before he spoke.
Culliver appeared on The Artie Lange Show last Tuesday, and in a series of the host’s usual odd questioning, the player caused controversy when Lange asked if there are any gay players on the team.
“I don’t do the gay guys,” he said. “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.”
The 49ers immediately distanced themselves from the remarks, and in a statement released on Wednesday, Culliver said, “The derogatory comments I made yesterday were a reflection of thoughts in my head, but they are not how I feel … Those discriminating feelings are truly not in my heart.” Culliver’s agent quickly jumped to his rescue, claiming his original remarks were misinterpreted.
With every word and every backtracked comment, it is evident the league and primary American sports, in general, are still a long way from embracing their first openly gay player.
It’s always been a question among the LGBT community and advocates: when will the nation see a player who puts everything aside and comes out while his career is still in progress? Many retired athletes have taken that step after they’ve hung up their uniforms, but they are no doubt mindful of the adverse effect it would have on their careers. Anyone whose name still appears on an active roster remains in the shadows.
Last year, the 49ers became the first NFL team to create a video for the “It Gets Better” campaign, a movement directed toward LGBTQ youth to let them know that while things are bad now, they won’t always be bad. But in the last few days, the video has been pulled. Why? SF linebacker Ahmad Brooks and tackle Isaac Sopoaga both denied their participation in the video when asked by USA Today about it on Thursday. The players then claimed ignorance and refused to comment after they were shown the video.
Such is the culture of sports. While the team made its effort to do something positive, Culliver’s comments and the actions of a few of his teammates completely counteract that effort. What we have is men who see football as the epitome of masculinity, and as a result, no one is willing to see that vision change.
Culliver’s comments do not stand as an isolated opinion, but it’s an opinion that, luckily, faces opposition among players and among his teammates. 49ers receiver Randy Moss stated it would be difficult for gay players to come out, but it’s past time we turn toward acceptance. “We just need to accept it and move on,” he told USA Today. “I don’t really look at gays in sports as a problem.”
Brendon Ayanbadejo, linebacker on the Baltimore Ravens and advocate for LGBTQ rights, answered Culliver’s comments with apparent pity and an obvious lack of surprise.
“I’d say 50 percent of the people [in the NFL] think like Culliver,” he told the Associated Press. “I’d say 25 percent of the people think like me. And 25 percent of the people are religious. They don't necessarily agree with all the things I agree with, but they’re accepting. So it’s a fight. It’s an uphill battle.”
It’s a sad reality that, in 2013, people not only still think the way Culliver thinks, but many like Culliver also have a platform that allows them to blather ignorant and hateful speech. He has every right to his opinion, as backward as it might be. But what he needs to realize is he gets paid to be a public figure, and that adds a whole other dimension. He isn’t just some random homophobe people can shrug off; he is someone millions of people watch and cheer for and look up to, people of all ages, genders and sexual orientations.
Not to mention Culliver is in what many consider America’s gayest city. San Francisco ranks high on different lists of America’s most gay-friendly cities and grabs a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipality Equality Index. His comments aren’t just affecting people on the other side of the country, they’re also hurting people in the city his team is connected to.
Culliver will now receive sensitivity training and become a volunteer with the Trevor Project after the Super Bowl. Whether it helps or even matters at this point is only a side note. The fact we need to keep sending athletes and public figures away every time they say something offensive is more indicative of the culture and society that surround them. The athletic mindset and culture is lagging behind the societal shift, and it is in desperate need of an overhaul.