Niners cornerback Culliver publicly apologizes for remarks
NEW ORLEANS — Gay marriage is legal in nine states, yet the NFL still is waiting for its first player to come out in the locker room.
If he does, a repentant Chris Culliver says he will be one of the first to welcome him.
Culliver, the San Francisco 49ers' nickel back, was forced to publicly apologize — he did so at length Thursday — for telling a radio host he wouldn't welcome a gay teammate and that any such player “gotta get out of here” because “I don't do the gay guys.”
The repudiation of Culliver's comments was swift if not punitive, with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh saying he and the cornerback met to discuss remarks that were certain to generate anger among San Francisco's sizable gay community. Harbaugh also said the remarks did not represent the 49ers' stance.
“We reject what he said,” Harbaugh said. “That's not something that reflects the way the organization feels, the way most of our players feel. … He pledged to grow from it. It will affect him.”
It already has.
Culliver disclosed he has gay relatives — he would not identify their relationship to him or how many they were — and that he was forced to apologize first to them, and his mother, before going public.
“I just cleared it up with them,” the second-year cornerback said. “I have quite a few relatives that are homosexuals. … They understand where I was coming from, and they heard everything.”
Given time to reflect, Culliver said he realized how wrong he was following a mostly sleepless night.
“I'm sorry if I offended anyone. They were very ugly comments,” he said. “That's not what I feel in my heart.”
As for whether he would have a problem with a gay teammate, Culliver said, “If someone did come out and say they were gay on a team, then, oh well, I'm accepting to it.”
While a half-dozen or so former NFL players disclosed after their careers that they were gay, no active player in any of the major pro team sports has done so.
However, former cornerback Wade Davis — who disclosed he is gay — said he knows of at least three current players who are gay, including one starter. And former 49ers lineman Kwame Harris was charged this week with domestic violence after being accused of striking his boyfriend in an argument over soy sauce.
Former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis told the Huffington Post that he wouldn't be surprised if he had former teammates who were gay, if only because he had so many of them.
But, Bettis said, “It would be really, really difficult for a gay player to stand up and say, ‘Hey, I'm gay and a former NFL player.”
Ravens safety Brendon Ayanbadejo, who also will play in the Super Bowl, has spoken out for gay rights and same-sex marriage and plans to talk with Culliver.
Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs insists he would have no problem with a gay teammate.
“Our biggest thing in the locker room is to just have fun and stay loose,” he said. “We don't really care too much about that. Everybody deserves a certain amount of privacy.”
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.
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