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Chris Culliver A Poor Role Model For Young Football Fans

Martha Greenburg |
February 2, 2013 | 7:17 p.m. PST



Young football fans could take Culliver's comments about gays to heart. (USCPSC, Creative Commons)
Young football fans could take Culliver's comments about gays to heart. (USCPSC, Creative Commons)

From the moment most boys enter elementary school, football is cool. It is the preferred game to play, watch, practice and talk about. In high school the boys on the football team are often the most popular. Whether he can play or not, from the moment he is old enough to speak, football is on a boy’s mind.

In the eyes of San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver, however, only some of these boys are worthy of the sport. As he told Artie Lange in an interview last Tuesday:

"We ain't got no gay people on the team. They gotta get up outta here if they do. Can't be with that sweet stuff... Nah, can't be... in the locker room, man."

If Culliver had given any thought to the hundreds of thousands of children—some straight, some gay—anticipating the upcoming Super Bowl, I would have expected him to keep such a statement to himself. Instead, he planted the idea that gay men are not welcome in the NFL in little brains all across the country.

Because kids are still developing their values and ideals, they tend to take the things their role models say very seriously. It is upsetting that Culliver said these things because they are generally offensive to the gay community and damage the reputation of the 49ers. But even more frustrating is having to watch Culliver take a step backwards from what progress has been made for the LGBT community in professional sports, and pull a generation of aspiring football players back with him.

As a celebrity or a sports star, one has an implicit responsibility to uphold a certain image. These stars are always in the spotlight and they have the power to make or break a child’s dream.

Since the interview, Culliver has made a dubious and artificial apology. What matters now, however, is what he and his teammates choose to do next. As they step into the spotlight once again this Sunday, they will have the chance to revisit this issue.

Rather than simply suspend Culliver from the game or sweep his comments under the rug, the 49ers should call its fans to action in support of LGBT athletes. Perhaps former 49er offensive lineman Kwame Harris could speak during halftime. Harris played in the NFL as a gay man, but did not come out until after his retirement.

As of now, no NFL player has ever been openly gay while actively playing. Now is the time for this to change. It is almost impossible for there to be absolutely no gay men in the NFL and there are most definitely gay young men who hope to one day play professional football.

Now that Culliver has brought the topic up for discussion, NFL players have the chance to change the way American football relates to the LGBT community. Amongst all of the beer, guacamole and advertisements that will be consumed this Sunday, there will be young children gazing at television screens, dreaming of a NFL where they can one day be welcome regardless of their sexuality.


Reach Contributor Martha Greenburg here.



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