This year, The NFL has fielded one PR problem after another, from replacement refs, to concussed players, and even wrongful death lawsuits. With the Super Bowl only days away, however, it seemed the league might enjoy a few days of good press.
No such luck.
On Tuesday, Chris Culliver, a 24-year-old cornerback for the San Francisco 49ers, was talking to radio personality Artie Lange, who asked him whether there were any gay players on the team. Here’s how Culliver reacted:
“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.”
Lange asked whether gay people can “play well.” Culliver said no. The 49er also mentioned that homosexuals shouldn’t be in the locker room and that they should wait 10 years to come out publicly as gay.
The 49ers are playing the Baltimore Ravens in Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Overnight, Culliver’s remarks became the topic du jour
among sports writers, prompting the 49ers to issue this statement:
“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 (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.”
Later, Culliver released this statement, via the 49ers:
“The derogatory comments I made yesterday were a reflection of thoughts in my head, but they are not how I feel. It has taken me seeing them in print to realize that they are hurtful and ugly. Those discriminating feelings are truly not in my heart. Further, I apologize to those who I have hurt and offended, and I pledge to learn and grow from this experience.”
In recent months, the NFL has challenged the notion that it is a homophobic organization. In September, two players, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo and Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, spoke up in support of gay marriage, at a time when their respective states were debating the topic, according to a report in The New York Times
. Kluwe even wrote a profanity-laced letter
to Maryland state delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr., who had himself written to Raven's owner Steve Bisciotti, urging him to "inhibit such expressions from your employee," according to the sports blog Deadspin
, which published Kluwe's letter.
In August, three 49ers players starred in an “It Gets Better
” video, part of the campaign to encourage LGBT teens to overcome bullying.
During the video, Donte Whitner, a safety for the 49ers, says, “On behalf of the entire 49ers organization, we are on your side, and we promise: It gets better.”
The remarks from Culliver, who wasn’t in the team’s “It Gets Better” video, could threaten to undo the league’s progress in perception at a crucial time when all eyes (in the U.S., at least) are on the NFL.
Culliver is scheduled to address the remarks during the 49ers media availability on Thursday, according to ESPN
Editor's note: This story has been updated to explain why Chris Kluwe wrote the letter that appeared on Deadspin.