"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.

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23 Responses to “SURPRISE!”

  1. The Mad Dreamer Says:

    There aren't gay people in football the same way there aren't gay people in Iran.

  2. Xynzee Says:

    When I first heard this (problem w reading crap news sources) my first thought was, "And you went to San Fran, why?"

    I'm more surprised that this is even still a topic of discussion in pro-sport. Next thing you know we'll find out that pros use… you know… alcohol!!

  3. Daniel Says:

    I'm not surprised Old Artie Lange started this shitstorm. I've seen his stand-up on Comedy Central and it's extremely homophobic. He really panders to that old-school "fuck these homo fags prancing around, amirite fellow longshoremen." I don't think he actually feels that way, I just think that he's too lazy to raise the discourse. Plus, he has a very slothful act in general.

    Charles Barkley said there was probably at least one gay player on every NBA team back when he played. He said they would cover for them, but they seemed to have beards and obviously kept a low profile about it. This was when John Amaechi came out, and Tim Hardaway went old-school homophobia on him. I think he went on Dan Le Batard's radio show and made himself look like a total stooge.

    It's interesting you posted this tonight considering the Boy Scouts of America news about publicly trying to integrate gays. It's fucking sad people are still protesting this shit in 2013.

  4. Middle Seaman Says:

    Why would we even be aware of gays in any group? How many Muslims are there in the NFL, Jews, Mormons, sufferers of OCD and bi-polar players?

    Some inquiring minds want to know and discriminate.

  5. Sean Says:

    Jock culture has always struck me as fairly gay, but in a closeted, in-denial and don't-try-to-tell-them-otherwise-or-risk-getting-punched kind of a way. It just adds to the sense that when one is around jocks (especially groups of them) that you are dealing with less than rational people. And I hang with bikers…

  6. Dr. Mac Says:

    @Middle Seaman: and fat guys (linemen) who will have very serious health issues around 50 years old…. that ain't macho at all.

  7. Nunya Says:

    It's a funny thing. As a man of a certain age, calling everyone a fag or describing everything you didn't agree with as gay used to be part of American life. I didn't understand what either of those terms actually meant at the time but some dude acting like a chick was cause enough to kick his ass. It had always been this way and who was I to change it.

    Fast forward 30 years and I couldn't be more ashamed. It turns out that one of me best childhood friends, a far better athlete than I finally came out of the closet in his mid twenties. At the same time, people at work started introducing their partners. It didn't take long to recognize just how mistaken I had been about being gay. It turns out, we're all just about as boring as everyone else.

    The strides made, particularly in the last 10 years, towards gay equality astonish me. It turns out that a lot of people, just like me, decided that outdated thinking about something that actually caused no harm and made us all just a little more fabulous is a thing to be celebrated. You don't have to lie about who you are anymore. You don't have to fake a marriage, try to have kids before ultimately being thrown to the wolves when you decide to be who you are (another story.)

    I have a good friend in Sherman, TX who I use as my gauge on social trends and I'm pleased to report that no one under 30 gives a shit if you're gay. Their parents and grandparents still do but they're not long for this earth.

    There's one thing I can say about Gen-X, we used apathy to create a whole new level of acceptance.

  8. Elle Says:

    Professional sports is a citadel of anxious masculinity. On a continent in which soccer players represent the acme of masculinity (I can sense your collective puzzlement from here), there have been exactly two out professional footballers ever. Justin Fashanu, who played in England, came out, and died from suicide, and Anton Hysen, who currently plays for a lower-league Swedish team. Managers are in the press all the time saying that gay soccer players would undermine team cohesion, although there's been a tiny bit of progress on that. Sepp Blatter, the unlovely head of FIFA, periodically breaks off from being a sexist tool to riff on the theme of how hilarious it is that he and his cronies awarded the football World Cup to a place that executes gay people. The English FA made an advert challenging homophobia in football, but then promptly decided it was too embarrassed to launch it or promote it in any way.

    I love watching sport, but I think it's very bad for us to fetishise this ersatz manliness, and subordinate all other ways of being. The endless parade of sportsmen through the criminal justice system accused of perpetrating rape, domestic abuse, and random physical assaults on women speaks to the consequences for others of their rampaging entitlement.

  9. c u n d gulag Says:

    "'I don't do the gay guys man,' Culliver told Artie Lange ahead of the game."

    Which begs the question, "Ok man, but do you let them do you?" ;-)

    Methinks he doth protest too much…

    As I'm sure most of the readers here know, not every NFL player is some sort of anti-Gay Luddite.
    Here's Chris Kluwe's, the enlightened Vikings punters, wiki – with some links for you to follow.

    And for those who don't want to sort throught his bio, here's his letter to the aniti-gay Maryland state politician, which put Kluwe into the national spotlight:

  10. JBerardi Says:

    Does anyone else notice the contradiction here? Between the Air force flyovers, military personal performing the national anthem, and the actual paid ads from various branches of the armed forces, the glorification of American military forces is a major feature of any NFL football game.

    So, do these athletes realize that the US Military is a pack of gay-loving, gay-marrying gayfers now? It was in all the papers.

  11. anotherbozo Says:

    I'm sure one of the biggest spurs to gay rights recently was what will probably be considered in retrospect the Great Coming-Out, the decade in which the taboo abated just enough for uncles and cousins and neighbors and business relations (and actors and athletes) to all make known, casually or otherwise, their homosexuality. Giving "the gay" an unmistakably and irrevocably human face.

    Since my wife is Korean, I was sitting around recently with a large Korean group at a dinner when the subject turned, risibly, to the times when they almost all confidently repeated the absurdity that "oh, there aren't any gay Koreans." Everyone enjoyed a good laugh at the former self-delusion, and the macho culture which perpetuated it.

  12. acer Says:

    What city do they think most of their fans live in?

  13. J. Dryden Says:

    @ Nunya: Yes. Precisely. For all of the much-ballyhooed hand-wringing over our generation's cynical apathy, there was another side to the coin: By not giving a damn about all the things our parents wanted us to care about, we managed to escape the idiocy of so many of their misguided priorities and prejudices. (I mean, we still produced a bumper crop of cynical assholes, but said bumper crop never waited outside a bar to play 'stomp the queer while he's looking for his car keys.')

    The real face of tolerance and acceptance isn't loving smiles and great big hugs–it's the blank stare of indifference when confronted with someone you see as just another flesh-and-bone obstacle between you and the ATM. A drag queen takes just as long to punch in her code as a WASP with a happy marriage and a mortgage–just take your withdrawal and your receipt and get the fuck out of my way!

    And as for gays in sports, well, the locker room is as good a place as any to learn the simple lesson–which none of the bigots seem to understand at first, though it's proven time and again: "A gay man will never do anything to you unless you want him to, and say so. Period. Never. Never ever." Which sounds so reductively stupid when I type it, but it's the ultimate source of gay panic–"Oh my God, what if he, like, tries to *do* something?!"–and it can be solved by simply asking "Why on earth would I ever want to fuck *you*?" Which has the potential for great comedy, as the homophobe struggles to simultaneously accommodate his ego and his fear: "Um, well, because…I'm…sexy? No–no, wait, I'm not! Don't–I mean, I *do* have nice eyes, but–don't touch me! Help!"

  14. Major Kong Says:

    I think the first insults I ever learned were "fag" and "queer".

    I was probably in 4th or 5th grade and didn't even really know what they meant – just that it was considered to be a good insult.

    It took me until age 20 or 21, after I had actually known gay people, to get over that. Thankfully so.

  15. Pat Says:

    Mad Dreamer beat me to it.

  16. Rosalux Says:

    I just want to point out the dilemma that Culliver's comments created for football fans not living in Baltimore or San Francisco…Who to root for: the team with the homophobe on it or Ray Lewis (who is probably still somewhere blubbering and wrapping himself in God and waving his hands in the air about how God made the ravens win)? Fortunately, as a Broncos fan, I could remember Superbowl XXIV (i.e. where the 49ers beat the Broncos in the most lopsided game in superbowl history), so that provided me with the added resentment I needed to root for the 49ers to lose.

    Culliver can eat a dick, he's on the wrong side of history. In 20 years, people like him will be thought of like we think of George Wallace.

  17. jon Says:

    I'm glad John Waters' city beat Armistead Maupin's place overlooking a body of water.

    It was Divine intervention.

  18. Sarah Says:

    I'm a GenXer, and I remember getting homophobic bullshit as a kid (not, mind you, for actually being a gay child, but because I didn't conform to established gender roles and therefore it was assumed that I must be a gay child). The first sci-fi movie I clearly remember seeing was Return of the Jedi, and OMG I was in love with the genre. I won't go into the details, but suffice to say that it was generally considered unacceptable for a girl to like a "boy movie." So when I heard about this story, I could totally relate.

    The man who officiated at my sister's wedding is a gay man in a long-term relationship. There's something infuriating about the idea that he's barred by state constitutional amendment (popularly voted in with 64% approval) to marry his partner, and yet he can go get himself a notary commission (at a cost of a few hundred dollars–I've had three notary commissions) and perform somebody else's wedding.

  19. Sarah Says:

    @cund gulag: That letter is awesome on so many levels. Thanks for posting it.

  20. Matt Says:

    "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"

    Well, except one – I believe communal fag-bashing is considered a sacrament in some evangelical churches.

  21. Sarah Says:

    "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"

    Well, except one – I believe communal fag-bashing is considered a sacrament in some evangelical churches.

    Which is why it's a good thing that they are losing people.

  22. Dick Nixon Says:

    When bigots, and homophobes and sexists and ethnic supremacists flap their ugly gums, I simply laugh in their face.

    They can survive chastisement, finger wagging, hand wringing and moral outrage, but they can't survive a dismissive belly laugh. I don't know how many of these people I have left in my wake, mouth agape, after laughing at their foolishness.

    The demonization of "the other" is so outrageously wrong–it goes against every decent human instinct — that the only proper recourse is laughter.

  23. vegymper Says:

    Agree with Sarah on thanking C.u.n.d. Gulag for pointing us out the Kluwer letter. Beware Ed, this boy Kluwer is about to take away your 1st place in FJMing, expletives and all