San Francisco 49er Chris Culliver selfishly shot off his mouth yesterday, igniting a firestorm of controversy and creating a nightmare for his team and the National Football League as they head to the Super Bowl. For that alone the NFL should suspend him, his comments having put his entire team at the center of an unnecessary controversy as they're trying to focus on the game.
But for the horrendously bigoted, anti-gay content of his remarks, there is no question that Culliver must be suspended if the NFL is serious about its claims to be taking on homophobia in its ranks. Thanks to players like Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendan Ayanbadejo and their pro-gay advocacy, we're seeing a shift among NFL players, but the leadership needs to take strong stand against Culliver's kind of bigotry if that shift is to continue.
"I don't do the gay guys, man," Culliver told radio host Artie Lange. "I don't do that. No."
Asked whether there are any gay players on the 49ers, Culliver said, "Nah. We don't got no gay people on the team. You know, they gotta get up out of here if they do. Can't be with that sweet stuff."
Incredulous, Lange pointed out that gay players might be able to play well, too, but Culliver responded, "Nah. Nah. Can't be... can't... uh... be in the locker room."
Lange then asked whether Culliver thought gay players should stay closeted while playing professionally, and Culliver responded, "Yeah, you gotta, you gotta come out 10 years later after that."
The NFL and many of its officials, as well as many team owners, managers and coaches, have gone to great lengths in condemning homophobia and saying that it would be fine for a player to come out as gay and that he'd be accepted and welcome. But statements like Culliver's, if they go unpunished, make all of that look like window dressing, and no player is going to even think about coming out.
The San Francisco 49ers issued a statement condemning Culliver's remarks and saying that they have "addressed the matter with Chris" and that they "proudly support the LGBT community." But again, without any repercussions, it's all just words. Culliver himself issued a ridiculously weak apology that he didn't even seem to write himself: "The derogatory comments I made yesterday were a reflection of thoughts in my head, but they are not how I feel," he said. "Those discriminating feelings are truly not in my heart."
Culliver's PR rep, Theodore Palmer, issued an even more nonsensical statement: "Chris is very apologetic for any harm caused to anyone ... He is one who celebrates the differences of others. All of this was just a big mistake. It was interpreted wrong."
So now we interpreted it all wrong -- it's our fault! -- because these were just "reflections of thoughts" in Culliver's "head" but not in his "heart," all just "a big mistake." I'll say.
This cannot stand. The 49ers and the NFL need to take action and send a strong message. John Aravosis at Americablog has pointed out that the 49ers suspended running back Brandon Jacobs just last month for making derogatory comments about his bosses. Are the team management saying that they take it seriously when they themselves are insulted, but not when closeted gay players and gay fans are subjected to bigoted, offensive remarks?
If there is no suspension, the message from the NFL to young people, amid continued reports of suicides by LGBT youth who experienced bullying, is that it's OK for sports players and everyone else to attack gays and demand that they stay closeted and live in shame. If Culliver faces no repercussions, then the NFL's words about support and acceptance of gay athletes and fans are completely empty.