And There Goes a Year's Worth of Progress for Gay Rights in the NFL

Connor Simpson
The Atlantic Wire

Just when the NFL was starting to shed its homophobic reputation and look like an accepting place for gay athletes, one San Francisco 49ers player had to come along and ruin all of that — and all under the Super Bowl spotlight.

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Backup 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver told the comedian Artie Lange on Super Bowl Media Day that he wouldn't welcome an openly gay teammate in the locker room, and he did it in the grossest way possible. "I don't do the gay guys, man," Culliver told Lange on a radio interview broadcast last night and making waves today. "I don't do that. No, we don't got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do." Culliver said gay players "can't be... in the locker room, man. Nah." When asked by Lange if gay players should keep their sexual preference a secret, Culliver said they should. "Yeah, come out 10 years later after that," he told Lange. 

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The reaction so far has mostly been disbelief. On Wednesday, ESPN's Pardon the Interruption hosts Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser both expressed their disappointment with Culliver. Kornheiser said it was "the stupidest thing he's heard in the last 24 hours." The 49ers organization released a statement Wednesday evening rejecting Culliver's remarks, too. "The San Francisco 49ers reject the comments that were made yesterday, and have addressed the matter with Chris," the statement said. "There is no place for discrimination within our organization at any level. We have and always will proudly support the LGBT community.”

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It's a shame Culliver is getting so much attention, considering a Baltimore Ravens player has made (quieter) headlines during Super Bowl week for supporting gay marriage. Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo has been one of the most outspoken NFL athletes for gay rights. "Doing what's right in this day and age, you shouldn't be applauded for that," Ayanbadejo said at Media Day on Tuesday. "I was the first athlete to talk about [marriage equality] when a lot of athletes weren't talking about it." 

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Vikings kicker Chris Kluwe this season became an outspoken NFL ambassador for gay rights, and he even reminded an anti-gay Maryland legislator who wanted the Ravens to keep Ayanbadejo quiet during the Super Bowl festivities that everyone has their rights to the First Amendment. 

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What makes the whole Culliver situation even more strange is that, just yesterday, a former 49ers player was unceremoniously outed after a domestic dispute with his boyfriend. Former first-round pick Kwame Harris was accused of beating up his ex-boyfriend, according to a lawsuit.

So, sorry, Chris: gay players have been in your locker room before. And you play in San Francisco, which isn't exactly known for its strong conservative values. As Deadspin's John Koblin points out, there's a San Francisco sports bar called Hi Tops and — shock! gasp! — gay 49ers fans exist and make out while cheering for your team.