Yesterday, GLAAD made a statement along with Athlete Ally and You Can Play, on the actions of Chris Culliver, who stated that he would not want an openly gay player on his football team and wrongly felt that they would not be accepted within his football locker room. Immediately after his comments were given the San Francisco 49ers, the team for which he plays, rejected his comments and reaffirmed their support for the LGBT community. In the past the 49ers have been very vocal in their support for the LGBT community as well as for a gay athlete within their locker room and the comments made by Culliver are clearly oppositional to their stance on LGBT rights. This statement prompted Culliver to issue an apology in which he stated that his comments were a “reflection of the thoughts in his head” but not how he actually feels.
Now, a day after the incident and while the 49ers are absorbed in preparation for Super Bowl XLVII, the sports community has begun to reflect on the significance of Culliver’s comments, and where they fit into the context of the modern sports world. Of course, some are questioning whether or not the anti-gay comments made by Culliver will have an adverse effect on how the 49ers prepare for and play in Super Bowl XLVII this Sunday. But others are speaking to the broader issue of LGBT people in the world of sports. Many sports writers like Tyson Langland from Bleacher Report are speaking out about how unacceptable Culliver’s comments are as a player within the NFL.
Marcus Thompson who is the beat writer for the Golden State Warriors and works for the Bay Area News Group responded to Culliver’s commentary by stating that “compassion is born out of understanding”, seemingly suggesting that Culliver lacks an understanding of the LGBT community. Tim Kawakami from The San Jose Mercury News reprimanded the comments made by Culliver by stating that his words were, “ inappropriate, small-minded and not befitting a representative of any sports franchise”. President of the San Francisco 49ers Gideon Yu responded to his player’s comments by tweeting that although he loves his team and players, he “Absolutely abhors discrimination”.
Hosts of Popular ESPN show Pardon the Interruption Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon weighed in on the issue during their show. Wilbon noted how Culliver is, “out of touch” with the mainstream American public on the issue of LGBT inclusion. He also noted how Culliver’s actions, “reflect such intolerance” that he would keep a distance from the player and his “frightening comments” about the LGBT community. Head Coach of the 49ers Jim Harbaugh stated that Culliver’s comments were “not something that reflects the way the organization feels, the way the rest of the players feel.” At the end of the day many media outlets feel that Culliver needs to learn from the experience of expressing hurtful and intolerant ideology on such a national stage.
Gwen Knapp from the excellent Sports On Earth website rightfully points out that Culliver was responding to a "clownish radio-show host" who had led into this question about gay players by first asking how many "white chicks" Culliver was planning to "bang," then asking if he had been hit on by any gay men. (not necessarily players.) Knapp says about Culliver "What he really needs to do, though, is listen."
The real issue comes down to the ability of the 49ers, and the NFL in general, to create those listening opportunities, and to cultivate an LGBT inclusive environment within the professional football community.