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January 31, 2013

Coming Out as a Gay Athlete: Super Bowl Edition

Although I feel a little strange writing two "Coming Out as a Gay Athlete" posts in a row, (a) it's the Super Bowl this weekend, (b) my team (the 49ers) are in the news, and (c) they're not just in the news for the upcoming Super Bowl. Rather, they're talking about gay athletes.

First off, let me just say GO NINERS!

Secondly, here are the two stories to which I'm referring when I say the Niners are making headlines about gay athletes: (1) In an interview with a shock jock this week, cornerback Chris Culliver made homophobic remarks that a gay teammate would not be welcome on the team. (2) Separately, a story broke that served to "out" former 49ers player Kwame Harris after he was held on charges for a confrontation with an ex-boyfriend.

Where to start, where to start?

I had very mixed reactions to the Chris Culliver interview coverage. My initial reaction was to smack my forehead and groan that, just when it seems like the NFL is taking a progressive step forward to show tolerance and respect for a potentially gay athlete, some idiot - and not just ANY idiot, but an idiot on my team! - goes and drags them two steps back.  I mean, the 49ers are seriously one of the most LGBT-friendly teams in what is pretty much the gay capital of the world. It's ridiculous that one of their players would give voice to such intolerance.

But then I saw the swift and uncompromising statement released by the 49ers organization in response to Culliver's ridiculousness, and that rebuttal served to restore some faith in my team. The team shot down Culliver's statements and made it patently clear that his bigotry is not something tolerated by the organization.  Even so, it really sticks in my craw that this idiot can just go and apologize and then nothing else will happen. Ugh.  

Will the NFL take actions like the MLB did when Yunel Escobar wore an anti-gay slur on his eyeblack? As I mentioned in October, Escobar's suspension was seemingly nominal, but at least it was something.  Will the NFL even do anything in this case? Then again, perhaps the fan backlash against Culliver will be enough punishment. He's definitely not marketable for an endorsement deal at this point.

Separately, I saw that a former 49ers player, Kwame Harris, was recently inadvertently "outed" when charges were brought against him in connection with a confrontation he had with an ex-boyfriend. Again, I had some mixed reactions to this news. I mean, domestic violence is definitely a no - please don't think I'm condoning those actions in any way. In addition, being outed when you're not ready to be out is also not cool.  From what I've read, it sounds like Harris was openly gay in his private life with family and friends, but this is a whole other level and a hell of a way to be outed to the world.

With that said, I thought the reactions of a couple of the 49ers players interviewed in connection with the revelation of Kwame Harris's sexuality were completely on point.  Unlike Culliver, who made inflammatory remarks about the possibility of having a gay teammate, these guys actually did have a gay teammate. They actually played on the team with Kwame Harris, and hey! Guess what? They were cool with it. While Harris wasn't out while on the team, this info still reaffirms my belief that more NFL players are ready for a gay teammate than they would have been even five or ten years ago.

Now, with the question of gay athletes on everyone's mind, the atmosphere may be ripe for a public outing.  I me, it seems like the Super Bowl would be the perfect occasion to reveal the first openly gay professional football player, wouldn't it?

Rooting for the red-and-gold,


  1. I'll admit, I don't follow football. Like, at all. But I did catch this article I thought you might be interested in:

    I fell a little in love with Ayanbadejo.