The San Francisco 49ers’ Chris Culliver reminded anyone paying attention to this week’s Super Bowl festivities that ideas have weight and can sometimes sting, like a giant bumble bee with an axe to grind.
During a radio interview Culliver was asked about gay football players in the NFL. His response:
“I don’t do the gay guys man. I don’t do that. No, we don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff. Nah…can’t be … in the locker room man. Nah.”
On their own, the words are mild, inoffensive. No epithets or insults are uttered. But cobbled together and spoken, his words are like concrete blocks looking for toes to fall on.
Kudos to Culliver. Seriously. He has an opinion — however unenlightened it may be — he voiced it and now his teammates, his colleagues, bosses and sponsors know where he stands.
Too often in our own lives we work with, listen to, take orders from, pray alongside of, cater to and tolerate for the sake of professional or personal harmony people whose feelings about race and sexual identity — two of the biggest taboo topics in our society — we don’t know. In other words, we’re left guessing.
That Culliver has expressed, however clumsily, his apparent homophobia leaves no room for doubt. Thanks, Chris.
Critics might blast Culliver for setting a bad example to kids. That’s a narrow strait to navigate. Would and do parents feel the same way about a doctor who shares the sentiment about gays in the workplace? Or principals about gays in the classroom? Is someone who shares those same feelings because of religious or personal beliefs any less a role model than a macho professional athlete? Or are we offended because Culliver had the nerve to say out loud what so many (too many?) people think?
Those who expect professional athletes to be role models for their children may want to consider the example of another futbol player.
Jozy Altidore plays in Holland. By looking at him you can’t tell if he is gay or not gay. But you do see he is black. An unfortunate scourge to plague European futbol is racism and on occasion it surfaces during league and international matches.
In a recent game a small pocket of the opposing team’s fans shouted racist names and made sounds like monkeys every time Altidore touched the ball. The referee wanted to end the game. He consulted Jozy.
“You know what, it’s only going to make them stronger if we back down,” Altidore said. He went on to tell Sports Illustrated: “I didn’t want to empower them. Empowering them would have been walking off and saying, ‘OK, you got the best of me, I’m done.’ I wanted to show them they couldn’t hurt me, in a sense.”
We can’t control what people think but we can control how we respond. Sometimes you just have to swat that bee away, shrug and move on.