NEW ORLEANS (AP) – San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver apologized Thursday for anti-gay comments he made to a comedian during Super Bowl media day, saying “that’s not what I feel in my heart.”
“I’m sorry if I offended anyone. They were very ugly comments,” Culliver said during an hour-long media session. “Hopefully I learn and grow from this experience and this situation.”
He said he would welcome a gay teammate to the 49ers, a reversal of his remarks to Artie Lange two days earlier during an interview at the Superdome.
“I treat everyone equal,” Culliver said. “That’s not how I feel.”
He added that he realized his comments were especially offensive to many people in San Francisco and the Bay Area, which is home to a large gay community.
“I love San Francisco,” Culliver said.
During the interview with Lange, Culliver responded to questions by saying he wouldn’t welcome a gay player in the locker room. He also said the 49ers didn’t have any gay players, and if they did those players should leave.
San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh met privately with Culliver to discuss the remarks.
“I reject what he said,” Harbaugh said. “That’s not something that reflects the way the organization feels, the way the rest of the players feel.”
The coach would not discuss if Culliver would face discipline from the team, such as a fine or loss of playing time.
“He pledged to grow from it,” Harbaugh said.
The interview began with Lange asking Culliver about his sexual plans with women during Super Bowl week. Lange followed up with a question about whether Culliver would consider pursuing a gay man.
“I don’t do the gay guys, man. I don’t do that,” Culliver said during the one-minute taped interview. “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.”
Lange asked Culliver to reiterate his thoughts, to which the player said, “It’s true.” He added he wouldn’t welcome a gay teammate – no matter how talented.
“Nah. Can’t be … in the locker room, nah,” he said. “You’ve gotta come out 10 years later after that.”
The 24-year-old Culliver, a third-round draft pick in 2011 out of South Carolina, made 47 tackles with two interceptions and a forced fumble this season while starting six games for the NFC champion Niners (13-4-1).
He had his first career postseason interception in San Francisco’s 28-24 win at Atlanta for the NFC title, which sent the 49ers to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995. They will face the AFC champion Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
The 49ers participate in the NFL’s “It Gets Better” anti-bullying campaign. Three organizations working for LGBT inclusion in sports – Athlete Ally, You Can Play, and GLAAD – reacted to Culliver’s remarks and later acknowledged his apology.
“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.”
Calling Lange’s questions “real disrespectful,” Culliver said he realized he was speaking to a comedian and not a journalist.
“That was pretty much in a joking manner,” the player said. “It’s nothing about how I feel.”
Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, who made headlines this season with his vocal support of a gay-marriage initiative in Maryland, said Culliver’s comments to Lange were reflective of how many players in the NFL feel, even if they don’t express it publicly. He hopes the 49ers cornerback will learn from this experience and become a positive role model in the quest for equality.
“You can’t fight hate with hate,” Ayanbadejo said. “You’ve got to fight hate with love.”
Baltimore safety Bernard Pollard said Culliver should be allowed to express his views, even if some people found them offensive.
“The guy’s entitled to his own opinion,” said Pollard, who has acknowledged that he disagrees with Ayanbadejo’s stand on gay marriage. “I’m not going to sit here and knock him. I’m not going to sit here and judge him. It’s freedom of speech. If you don’t like it, don’t listen to it.”