As you may imagine, I got linked a bunch of times yesterday to this story about a 49ers player saying there were no gay players on his team and he would prefer it remain that way (using different words). My response to this was generally: (1) are we surprised? I mean, if the NFL (or any sport) were a happy fluffy gay-friendly environment, one of the many gay players now active would certainly be out. (2) Just wait like an hour or two.
Sure enough, the 49ers immediately issued a statement that Culliver does not speak for the entire team, and today Culliver himself issued a retraction that certainly sounds like it was written by a 49ers media relations person, and some generic “that’s not what’s in my heart” statements that, you know, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on.
Couple lessons here.
First, a statement by one guy does not mean that gay rights has suddenly regressed ten years or twenty years. There’s homophobia in the NFL. That was true Tuesday, and yesterday, and it’s true today. What’s important is the reaction from the rest of the world, from the team, and from fellow players.
Second, following on to that point, the immediate reaction from everyone and the fact that he not only issued an apology but sat and talked to reporters about it for 45 minutes speaks volumes to where we and the NFL are with respect to gay rights. I am sure there are players in the league who are fuming today, angry that someone can’t say boo about gay people without getting slammed left and right. But you know, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are fewer of those players than there are actually gay players. I think this kid has at the very least learned to watch what he says in public, and maybe that will lead him to re-examine the way he feels about things.
It’s been said over and over again that the best remedy to homophobia is knowing a gay person. But a pretty good remedy is talking to a lot of people about it. I’d guess that Culliver never really knew gay people, that the topic never really came up in his life, and the most thinking he did about it was growing up as a teen or playing football in college where you would call someone ‘faggot’ as an insult. Maybe he knew you shouldn’t do that anymore, but hadn’t really thought about why.
Now he’s part of a conversation about it, and he’s being made aware of it, and I hope maybe he’s realizing that these beliefs he had weren’t founded in anything. Homophobia is the default setting in some communities without anyone really understanding why, but that’s changing as the conversations in our world become more open. When forced to examine these beliefs, a lot of people realize that these ideals they took for granted don’t really hold up.
So this isn’t, in the grand scheme of things, a big terrible event. It’s part of the process, and I think it’s been handled about as well as we could hope.