While speaking with comedian Artie Lange on Tuesday, Culliver said, ''I don't do the gay guys, man. I don't do that. 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 . . . Can't be . . . in the locker room, nah,'' he said. ''You've gotta come out 10 years later after that.''
"I was really just . . . not thinking," Culliver said on Thursday morning when asked about those remarks. "It was something that I thought, but definitely not something I feel in my heart."
As the team’s third cornerback, Culliver has faced some of the toughest offenses in the NFL this season.
Tom Brady. Aaron Rodgers. Eli Manning. Drew Brees.
None of those challenges were as daunting as the media blitzkrieg that covered him on Thursday.
Over 25 news cameras. Over 60 reporters. Over 80 recorders.
And there was Culliver, the little-known 24-year-old cornerback for the 49ers, the only one seated at a large table and suddenly the biggest story of Super Bowl XLVII.
The media session, which lasted an hour, must have felt like an eternity for Culliver. After addressing the comments and a flurry of questions in the first five minutes, he still had 55 more minutes left on the clock.
“If the reporters are like great white sharks, he’s the chum right now,” veteran 49ers linebacker Clark Haggans said.
“It’s blood in the water,” Haggans added, pointing over to the media contingent surrounding his young teammate. “It’s blood in the water and there are a bunch of Jaws all around there trying to mutilate him.”
“At the end of the day, you’re your own person,” said 49ers wide receiver Randy Moss, who is no stranger to controversy. “If you make comments, you have to be able to stand up as a person and face that. Hopefully, he’s over there doing a great job facing up to the media. It might not be something he’s used to, but for making a comment like that — now he has to face up and be a man about it.”
“That’s Cully’s own personal opinion on how he sees the issue,” Moss added. “I’ve said this before — being a homosexual is just your sexual preference. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. I don’t really judge people. I don’t really care, being in the locker room, being outside the locker room — we’re all human.”
49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh addressed Culliver’s comments on Thursday, as well. “We reject what he said. That’s not something that reflects the way the organization feels, the way most of the players feel.”
“I think it’s something that he will learn about himself,” Harbaugh added. “You saw his statement; he pledged to grow from it. It will affect him. Hope and pray that it affects him in a positive way going forward.”
Teammates Ahmad Brooks and Donte Whitner sat with Culliver during breakfast before Thursday’s media session. Brooks, whose shoulder injury status was expected to be a big storyline on Thursday, said his immediate reaction to Culliver’s comments was: “Damn, Cully. You’ve got to think before you talk. Gay people are people just like us, you know?”
Brooks continued, “Donte [Whitner] and I told him, ‘You’re about to get hounded. You realize that, right?’ But he already knew. He knew what he was going to be facing today. He probably thought there’d be a lot of media attention, but I don’t think he knew it’d be like this.
“He’s on the main stage right now and he’s not even a starter. He’s going to have to go through that."
Earlier in the season, Whitner and two other teammates starred in a Public Service Announcement against bullying. Whitner was the only 49ers player who mentioned the "It Gets Better Project," an organization with a pledge that states, in part, "I'll speak up against hate and intolerance whenever I see it, at school and at work. I'll provide hope for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other bullied teens by letting them know that it gets better."
“When I first saw Chris' comments, it pinched me a little bit,” said Whitner, who also noted that he has family members who are gay. "Chris is a very young guy. It's his second year in the National Football League. A lot of this stuff is new to him. He'll learn from this mistake and get better.
“Chris didn’t really know what he was doing at that moment. He didn’t really know what he was saying. It was a long day. He wasn’t used to it. And he just said it.”
A few blocks away in the Ravens media session, he responded to Culliver’s comments on Thursday, “I think in San Francisco, and being from the Bay Area myself, we try to preach love and acceptance of everybody. I couldn’t even really say anything negative to the young man. It’s just one of those things where you have to live and have to learn. In the words of Martin Luther King, you can’t fight hate with hate. You have to fight hate with love.
"We’ve all made our mistakes and done certain things and hurt people regardless of whether we meant to do it or not. But more than anything, it’s an opportunity to have a learning experience.
“I’ve preached since day one to my teammates that there are certain words you can’t say. When they’re around me, they know they can’t say ‘gay’ in a derogatory manner. You can’t say the three-letter ‘F’ word. I tell them if people hear you say those things regardless of whether you mean them or not, they’re going to fry you,” Ayanbadejo added. “If you’re in a public arena, your whole reputation is going to be roasted for it. We’ve kind of seen it happen this time. We just have to all learn from what happened from this mistake. He’s apologized and hopefully he’ll learn.
"He’s in the Bay Area so it’s really important and pertinent there. I think he’s going to learn, he’s going to grow and he’s going to be a better person for it.”
An hour after stepping right into an all-out media blitz, Culliver stood up and shuffled towards the exits. The clock had struck 00:00 and the press session he likely never imagined he’d have to endure was finally done.
The larger conversation on gays in professional football, however, has only just begun.