Posted: Thu January 31, 2013 4:35PM; Updated: Thu January 31, 2013 9:35PM
Michael Rosenberg
Michael Rosenberg>INSIDE THE NFL

Like Tim Hardaway, Chris Culliver may learn error of his words

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Chris Culliver of the San Francico 49ers
A day after saying he wouldn't want to play with gay teammates, Niners CB Chris Culliver apologized.
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NEW ORLEANS -- I've always felt that if you want to form an intelligent political opinion, you should wait to hear what a backup cornerback who happens to be playing in the Super Bowl has to say. This week, 49ers backup cornerback Chris Culliver came through for all of us, big-time.

Culliver said he would not care to share the gridiron with any homosexual gentlemen, but thanks so much for the offer. I'm paraphrasing there. His actual words, in an interview with comedian Artie Lange, were: "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."

Guess what, Chris: I think you would do the gays, man. I think if you had to be with that sweet stuff, you'd deal with it.

I think we are really close to breaking the homosexual barrier in major American team sports. The Jackie Robinson of gay male athletes is alive, out there, possibly playing pro sports already, and hopefully reading this:

"If people on teams were to come out, people would get over it and accept it and move forward. I really do think that. Any sport. If one person or two people, whoever, comes out in any sport, that sport will accept it and go from there."

Do you know who told me that Thursday? Former NBA All-Star Tim Hardaway. Just six years ago, Hardaway was Chris Culliver. In February 2007, he told Miami Herald columnist Dan LeBatard, "I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States."

On Thursday, Hardaway told me, "What I found out is that everybody should be treated equally no matter what. I do feel that way." And Hardaway thinks if a pro athlete announces he is gay, the story will pass quickly.

When Hardaway made his comments six years ago, he hadn't given it much thought. He hadn't tried to build relationships with homosexuals or understand them. He took for granted that his views were normal.

He quickly realized that they were not, and to his credit, he changed his mind.

The country has changed. The culture has changed. After Culliver made his comments, many in the sports media decided to thoughtfully conduct a Gay Pride parade through Culliver's skull, forcing him to backtrack and say his words were "ugly," and he loves gay people, but wait, not like that, and well, um, uh, never mind, and hey, everybody, do you think Ray Lewis killed those two guys or not?

I don't know if he changed his mind in a day. But like Hardaway, he can change his opinion over time. Hate is usually borne of ignorance, and on the subject of homosexuality, ignorance fades a little every day.

Chris Culliver might not like gay people. But I bet he likes playing in the NFL. And if his team employed a gay player, he would have to accept it if he wanted to keep playing.

Fans would be at least as hard on a gay-bashing teammate as they would be on a gay player. Public opinion has shifted. In 1996, a Democratic president signed the Defense of Marriage Act, designed to "define and protect the institution of marriage" -- from gay people. The bill prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

Now we have a Democratic president who openly supports gay marriage after saying, for years, that his position was "evolving." Whatever you think of this particular Democratic president -- and again, I advise you to talk to at least one backup cornerback in this Super Bowl before forming an opinion -- then understand: his position is mainstream. It is fast becoming the majority in this country.

Ten states have legalized gay marriage. Others are trying. Many others have banned it by state law or constitutional amendment. It is still a divisive topic, for sure ... but whether homosexuals should be allowed to work is not a divisive topic. And that's all we're talking about here: Can a homosexual man do his job if that job happens to be playing in the NFL, NBA, NHL or Major League Baseball?

Yes. Absolutely. If a player is talented enough, a team would happily employ him. In some markets, an openly gay athlete might even boost ticket sales. There would be a circus for a while, but society is more tolerant than we think. If we can love a linebacker who was once accused (rightly or wrongly) of double murder, why can't we accept a gay athlete?

This is where you say: "BUT WHAT ABOUT THE LOCKER ROOM?" Well, this is what would happen: The gay athlete would shower and get dressed, and the Earth's rotation would continue.

It is so easy to hear what Culliver said and think "No way. Too many guys think like that." But the reaction to his comments is far more relevant here. There was a swift public backlash and he had to retreat. He said what he felt he had to say Thursday, but it would not surprise me if, in the next few months, his opinion really does change.

Ask Tim Hardaway.

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