You Can Play, GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) and Athlete Ally, three organizations working for LGBT inclusion in sports, today released a joint statement in response to comments made by San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver, after he wrongfully stated that an openly gay player would not be accepted in a NFL locker room.
In interviews during the lead-up to this weekend’s Super Bowl, Culliver was asked whether he had any gay teammates. He responded “We don’t have any gay guys on the team,” adding “They gotta get up outta here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff.”
“Chris Culliver’s comments were disrespectful, discriminatory and dangerous, particularly for the young people who look up to him,” said Athlete Ally executive director Hudson Taylor. “His words underscore the importance of the athlete ally movement and the key role that professional athletes play in shaping an athletic climate that affirms and includes gay and lesbian players. Culliver’s current views are as marginal as they are misguided. We’re seeing more and more NFL players take a stand against homophobia in sports through our advocacy and we know that support at this level is only going to grow. It is becoming clear that discrimination is on the fringe and has absolutely no place in sports.”
Culliver’s own team agrees, saying in a statement: “The San Francisco 49ers reject the comments that were made yesterday, and have addressed the matter with Chris. There is no place for discrimination within our organization at any level. We have and always will proudly support the LGBT community.” The key to changing that attitude is education.
Culliver’s coach Jim Harbaugh previously stated: “I ask all players to play through their own personality and be who they are. What you ask of a player is to be a great teammate and be a good player. My expectations would be the same.”
“As we continue to have culture-changing conversations about LGBT people, and as the leagues continue to show their commitment to diversity and inclusion, it’s becoming more clear that when a player does come out publicly, the reaction will be more along the lines of what Culliver’s own coach predicted: they will be welcomed and accepted,” said GLAAD Director Aaron McQuade, who oversees the organization’s sports work.
“It is unfortunately not uncommon for some athletes who have not been exposed to the LGBT community to hold fast to harmful and outdated stereotypes about LGBT people,” said You Can Play president Patrick Burke. “Sports can often be an insular community- young athletes tend to associate with other young athletes, and that trend continues up through the high school and collegiate years. The lack of exposure to the LGBT community is something that our groups are working together to try to fix. We believe that most incidents such as these arise from ignorance, not hatred, and can be prevented and fixed through the type of education we provide. As we continue to work with the professional sports leagues to find the right ways to reach their athletes, we are optimistic that the future is bright for LGBT athletes, coaches, and fans in all of the major professional sports.”
You Can Play and Athlete Ally have spoken about LGBT inclusion with athletic departments at dozens of college campuses. Last year You Can Play launched its campaign for LGBT inclusion with the full support of the National Hockey League and several high-profile active players. GLAAD and Athlete Ally teamed up to offer an LGBT Ally training to two classes of NBA rookies, and every major professional men’s and women’s sports league in the country sent messages of support to bullied LGBT youth on Spirit Day last October.
UPDATE: According to Sports Illustrated Senior Writer Jim Trotter, and Buzzfeed senior political reporter Chris Geidner, Chris Culliver has apologized stating: “The derogatory comments I made yesterday were a reflection of thoughts in my head, but they are not how I feel. It has taken me seeing them in print to realize that they are hurtful and ugly. Those discriminating feelings are truly not in my heart. Further, I apologize to those who I have hurt and offended, and I pledge to learn and grow from this experience.”