"Media Week" prior to the Super Bowl is an excellent opportunity for athletes to say stupid things into cameras and microphones. 49ers player Chris Culliver took the proverbial ball of stupid and ran with it this year. After hack comedian Artie Lange asked him a hi-larious "So it's San Francisco, there must be gays on the team" joke-question, Culliver decided to hold court for a moment.
"I don't do the gay guys man," Culliver told Artie Lange ahead of the game. "I don’t do that. We don't got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do…can't be doin' that sweet stuff in the locker room man. Nah."
While I could focus on his curious word choice ("I don't do the gay guys" was what came to mind, Chris?) it's interesting to consider his comments in light of another piece of news that got little if any attention last week.
Former 49ers player Kwame Harris, a first round draft choice out of Stanford who played six undistinguished seasons in the NFL, was charged with felony domestic abuse stemming from an altercation in a restaurant with Dmitri Grier, an ex-boyfriend with whom he had lived previously. As a fan of a different NFC West team, I recall seeing Harris twice per year when we played the 49ers. So when I saw this news item I said, Oh, I remember that guy. Guess he's gay.
Nobody knew that until the charges were filed, which I assume attracted attention because "ex-NFL player charged with felony" is always good filler for sports journalists. During his time in the NFL, he kept this to himself. As the above comments from Culliver reflect, pro football might not be a very enjoyable environment in which to be "out".
What really gets me, though, is this part of Culliver's quote: "We don't got no gay people on the team…" Really? How do you know, Chris? Because in hindsight it appears that anyone on the 49ers for Harris' six seasons would have been wrong about that. And statistically, with 53 players on every NFL roster (plus countless coaches, trainers, staff, and other people "in the locker room") there's a good chance his statement is incorrect right now as well. Let's put it this way: there are 1500 active NFL players right now. The odds that zero of them are gay are…low. Extremely low.
What's surprising is not that Culliver made his comments, because I'm sure attitudes like that are common in the hyper-masculine environment of pro football, but that he or anyone else in the NFL would assume "There are no gay people here." The coincidental timing of the news item about Kwame Harris underscores the reality that "they" are everywhere. They might be keeping to themselves so they don't have to deal with your bullshit, but they're "in the locker room", in the stands, in your workplace, on the bus, serving your food, and in your church.
That's what I hope Chris Culliver and other players learn from this experience – there is no "gay-free zone" where it's OK to call people fags and air your theories about what kinds of people you find unacceptable. That players don't walk around with G-A-Y stamped across their forehead is not evidence that NFL locker rooms are tiny empires of heterosexuality. Over a decade ago when John Rocker made his infamously stupid comments about "queers with AIDS" on the New York subway, one of his teammates on the Atlanta Braves (if memory serves, Tom Glavine) was asked if he would accept a gay teammate. I remember him pausing for a second and saying, "Well, I probably already have." As much as it would shock him to learn, Culliver probably has too.