Totally heterosexual Westboro Baptist Church members protest. (Photo : Reuters)
The "It Gets Better" gay rights campaign has pulled its ad featuring the San Francisco 49ers from the project's website following various controversial comments from the team.
Four 49ers players -- including Donte Whitner, Ahmad Brooks, Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean Francois -- made a video for the "It Gets Better" campaign and itgetsbetter.org supporting gay rights in 2012. At the time, the team was praised for being the first in the NFL to shoot an ad for the campaign. Just one problem: they had no idea they were supporting gay rights.
While making the press rounds for Super Bowl 2013 in New Orleans, 49ers defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga and linebacker Ahmad Brooks told USA Today that they didn't even remember making the video. When prodded further, they recalled the ad, but admitted they didn't realize they were supporting LGBT youths, instead thinking they were just speaking out against general bullying.
Just days before Sopoaga and Brooks' snafu, San Francisco cornerback Chris Culliver similarly rankled many across the country when he made homophobic comments in a radio interview, saying he wouldn't welcome a gay player into the locker room.
Speaking with "shock jock" Artie Lange, Culliver insisted gay players wouldn't be welcome on the team. "I don't do the gay guys man," said Culliver, absolutely not trying to over compensate for something. "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," he said.
When Lange asked Culliver whether homosexual athletes would need to keep their sexuality a secret in football, he responded: "Yeah, come out 10 years later after that."
"It Gets Better" has pulled the 49ers' ad from their website due to the two instances.
San Francisco has quickly tried to distance the team from Culliver's remarks.
"The San Francisco 49ers reject the comments that were made [Tuesday], 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," said the team in a statement.
Culliver - or more likely his publicist and/or lawyer - also seemed to realize the error of his ways, issuing his own backtracking apology Wednesday.
"The derogatory comments I made yesterday were a reflection of thoughts in my head, but they are not how I feel," Culliver said in a statement. "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."
The NFL isn't exactly known for its progressive acceptance of homosexuality; in the league's long history there has never been an openly gay player, and strikingly few former players have come out after retiring. Recently, though, sexual orientation and its relationship to football have increasingly been in the spotlight.
Many believed the Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax to be a ruse designed to hide his homosexuality, a claim that the former Notre Dame star fiercely denied. And Monday, former 49er Kwame Harris was inadvertently outed after being charged in the assault of his ex-boyfriend.
"You always think because of the odds and the numbers there are gay players in the NFL," former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis told Huffington Post Live. "They haven't obviously come out and told anyone about it not even behind the scenes.
"Obviously there will be people who disagree and people who don't have a problem with it, but that will be in life as well. I don't think it is going to affect someone's play.
"Because it is so testosterone driven, it'd be really difficult for a gay player to stand up and say, 'Hey, I'm gay and I'm an NFL player.' "
Former 49er offensive tackle Harris offered his own analysis of Culliver's controversial comments.
"It's surprising that in 2013 Chris Culliver would use his 15 minutes to spread vitriol and hate," Harris told NBC Bay Area. "I recognize that these are comments that he may come to regret and that he may come to see that gay people are not so different than straight people."