by Robert Byrd
This week San Francisco 49er Chris Culliver said, according to Yahoo! Sports, a gay player would not be welcomed in the 49er locker room. Culliver, who will be playing in today’s Super Bowl, made the remarks during a radio interview with Artie Lange. The comments have made their rounds this week from blog to blog with several different analyses.
Some have argued that Culliver’s comments are a broader reflection of homophobia in sports, and others see his comments as an anomaly—a relic leftover from a sports world that is transitioning to a more open and welcoming venue for LGBTQ athletes.
Video of Culliver’s comments
I happen to agree with the latter, at least in part. The sports world is changing or at least the expectations are changing. Culliver’s comments and the backlash from the media, his teammates and coaches, and players from other teams and leagues are proof that expectations are different, even for athletes, when it comes to how the mainstream discusses LGBTQ people and issues. Athletes are expected to be inclusive in both their actions and language.
This change, although not completely new, is amazing when you consider media history.
Think back to the 1950s when “homosexuals” were talked about—in the media—as threats to national security. The media helped fuel the Lavender Scare by reporting on the potential destruction of the country at the hands of “sexual perverts.”
In the 1980s, at the beginning of the AIDS crisis in the United States the press, once again, fed fears and stirred homophobia by attaching language like “Gay Plague” or “Gays’ Disease” to a disease of unknown origin or expiration.
So this week—not the first it just stands out because of the Super Bowl and its tie in to sports—has been a refreshing experience. Among other big stories for the LGBTQ community, Culliver was held responsible for his comments in the media and, in the end, sparked a conversation that needed to be had.
Visibility hasn’t always been easy to come by for the LGBTQ community when it comes to mainstream media coverage—especially in sports. But conversations like the one this week or stories about straight allies in the sports world like Brendon Ayanbadejo, who is also playing in today’s game, keep the community, or at least parts of the community, out front.
Sports Illustrated’s photo of two gay 49ers fans kissing in a San Francisco bar this week is more proof that statements like the one Culliver made are aberrant (coincidentally another term used by the media in the 1950s and 1960s to describe gay and lesbian men and women).
My only question at this point: Is the entirety of the LGBTQ community benefiting in this change, or are large segments of the community excluded from visibility and mainstream inclusion? Is this a case of gay/masculine visibility trumping a broader queer perspective? Tell me what you think.