The 49ers are, of course, based in San Francisco, and so it was no surprise that two days later, Culliver offered a contrite apology, explaining that “that’s not what I feel in my heart” (really?) and adding, “I’m sorry if I offended anyone. They were very ugly comments. Hopefully I learn and grow from this experience and this situation.”
Jim Harbaugh, the coach of the 49ers, was quick to renounce Culliver’s initial comments, stating, “I reject what he said. That’s not something that reflects the way the organization feels, the way the rest of the players feel.” (It should also be noted that the NFL already has a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation.) And Culliver wanted to add that he loves San Francisco, with obvious reference to its large, openly gay population.
And even though Brendon Ayanbadejo wanted to focus on the Super Bowl as he met with the media this week, since gay issues were now back in the Super Bowl news, he stated that, “Hopefully I’ll be able to win a Super Bowl and do the entire media circuit so I can talk about these things.” (For the record, he and Birk have reportedly become closer friends as a result of expressing their differences.)
What are we to make of this? On the one hand, even though I passionately differ with Ayanbadejo, he can be commended for his zeal and devotion – after all, to him this is a matter of fairness and equality – but now is the time to focus on football, not on social issues. Win or loss, he’ll have plenty of media opportunities in the future.
As for Culliver, his “sweet stuff” comments are regrettable and his timing was awful, but is it so wrong for an athlete to say that he wouldn’t be at home with openly gay teammates? I’ve heard firsthand from a number of straight female softball players who were very uncomfortable with the strong lesbian presence on their teams – they have reported being pressured personally by their lesbian teammates – to the point that some have quit playing entirely. And since a professional football team develops deep personal bonds between the teammates, is it wrong to think that, at times, two straight men might relate differently than a straight man and a gay man, or that they might feel differently about standing around naked in the locker room? (Call it homophobic if you will; I call it perfectly understandable.)
But the real issue is this: In the week before the Super Bowl, the focus should be on the game and on the team, not on same-sex “marriage” (really, what in the world does this have to do with the game?) and not on whether a player would be at home with a gay teammate (how in the world is that relevant?).
Is it really too much to ask that, just for one week, we can enjoy a game without being drawn into the debate about homosexuality?
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.