Illustration by NHM

Illustration by NHM

As many Americans get ready for the Super Bowl this Sunday, the conversation seems to have drifted from who may win the game, like favorite sons the San Francisco 49ers or the underdog Baltimore Ravens (and whether Beyonce will lip-sync) – and into a surprising debate over LGBT rights.

It all started when 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver said, “Don’t do the gay guys. I don’t do that,” on a radio show hosted by Artie Lange on Tuesday, when he was asked if a gay teammate would be welcomed in the locker room. “We don’t have any gay guys on the team. They gotta get up outta here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff.”

Culliver, a real genius with verbiage, also added that gay players should keep it to themselves and “come out 10 years later.”

The discussion was first prompted by the recent arrest of his own teammate, 49ers offensive tackle Kwame Harris, for alleged domestic assault charges against his ex-boyfriend. The controversial statements now have fans and many in the LGBT community paying a lot more attention to how an openly gay player might really be treated in the pro sports world – and whether players tend to think like Culliver or more like Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who says he would welcome openly gay players.

“We wouldn’t have a problem with that,” Sugg said in an interview. “We don’t care. Our biggest thing in the locker room is to just have fun and stay loose. We really don’t care too much about that. We’re a football team.”

After facing media scrutiny, Culliver has since apologized for his anti-gay remarks – no doubt prompted by spin doctors for the team who are hoping to steer the conversation away from this controversy as the big game fast approaches in New Orleans on Sunday – but the contradicting opinions do seem to speak volumes about football. And fortunately players like Sugg are in good company.

Seattle Seahawks punter Jon Ryan thinks Culliver should be suspended over the anti-gay comments. “If Chris Culliver isn’t suspended by [Coach] Goodell then I am absolutely embarrassed to be part of a league that accepts this type of behavior.”

For the past year, another Ravens player – linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo – has been quite vocal in his support of same-sex marriage rights. He’s gone on the record again this week, saying he’d like to have a dialogue with Culliver and other NFL players who may have a problem with sharing the field with gay athletes. He also reassured many fans that not all professional sports stars are anti-gay.

“It’s not fair to bundle us all up and say the NFL is homophobic,” Ayanbadejo said. “You can’t control how individuals think. I would like to think that every single organization would stand on the side of not accepting discrimination.”

Michael Rosenberg recently wrote a story for Sports Illustrated about the acceptance of openly gay players in the pro sports world, in which he challenged, “Hate is usually borne of ignorance, and on the subject of homosexuality, ignorance fades a little every day.”

With supportive players and dialogue like this, LGBT fans are sure counting on it.


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