Have you ever heard the term "you can't un-ring a bell?" San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver tried to un-ring a bell on Thursday, denouncing his own homophobic comments with an enormous, unqualified apology (via Pro Football Talk):
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.
There's enough for all of us to learn and grow from this experience, which is why, in a totally horrible way, Culliver's original comments recharge a far more necessary conversation than his sanitized apology ever could.
Pardon me if that statement seems a bit…prepared. See, here's the thing about making hateful comments toward gays or ethnic and religious minorities—nobody actually says anything they don't mean. Culliver told Artie Lange, "I don't do the gay guys, man. I don't do that. Now, we don't got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do."
He then called being a homosexual "that sweet stuff" and told Lange that being gay "can't be" in the locker room.
Explain to me, exactly, how those comments were a reflection of thoughts in his head, but not how Culliver feels in his heart? In his head, he thinks homosexuals are ostensibly a lower form of human life, not worthy of sharing a locker room with him.
See, it's okay to shower and walk around naked with dozens of teammates and staff and media who come into the locker room after games, but it's not okay for one of those people to be gay because, what, Culliver might catch the gayness from him? That gay person may be so consumed with the size and shape of Culliver's unmentionables they would attack him or something? Gay people, after all, are all monsters, right?
Wrong. Gay people are regular, full-fledged human beings just like straight people, and it's amazing that in this day and age—for a guy who represents San Francisco of all cities—Culliver would be so closed-minded as to not only think what he said, but to actually let that kind of hatred spew from his mouth.
It's understandable the 49ers would publicly denounce the comments, which they did almost immediately. The statement from Culliver smacks of PR spin and, frankly, glosses over the greater issue at hand.
Culliver said it. He doesn't want gay people anywhere near him. Now own it. Own that you are a hateful, bigoted person. And don't let your team put out a statement that your head and heart weren't on the same page. That's how you feel, and it's horrible, so own it.
It's not just homophobes either. I love to hear public statements from racists, anti-Semites, bigots and misogynists because it lets the rest of us know who those people are. If someone is stupid enough to think that kind of thought—to feel that kind of feeling—I'd rather them have the asinine guts to say it in public than keeping the hatred bottled up inside.
People are awful. Not all people, but people who think that another human being doesn't deserve the same basic human rights or civil rights or political rights or marital rights as them should have the brightest lights shone up on them.
There are no brighter lights than the Super Bowl. It's good that Culliver said what he did. It's horrible that he thinks that, but it's good he had the moxie to say it into a microphone.
Had Culliver not said what he did, we wouldn't be talking about this issue on Super Bowl week. We wouldn't be talking about the fact that despite all the efforts over the last few decades to fight for equal rights for homosexuals in this country—from Harvey Milk to Barney Frank and everyone in between—there are still people out there with intolerance coursing through their veins. There are still people in this world who think it's okay to denounce homosexuality because they read it in a book that was written two millennia ago or because it seems "unnatural."
To be fair, at least Culliver didn't hide behind one of those curtains, rather saying he didn't want any gay players in his locker room because, essentially, it grosses him out. (Though to be fair, maybe that is how the "unnatural" people feel.)
More and more, as the stigma of homosexuality disappears from our society, former professional athletes have begun to feel more comfortable with announcing their true feelings. As that becomes more commonplace, many people keep waiting for those brave souls who will proudly come out while still playing, as if a current player in a male-dominated sport coming out will serve as a milestone in gay rights.
Surely those athletes will be appropriately lauded by most, and resoundingly denounced by those who share the thoughts that came from Culliver's head. But that's not the milestone I'm holding out for. I'll be most excited for the one that follows, when a man's sexual orientation doesn't matter at all.
It shouldn't matter now, or ever. Unless you can catch homosexuality in a locker room or contract gayness by being tackled on the football field. I don't even want to imagine what you can get from a stiff arm.