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Chris Culliver backtracks on anti-gay remarks

RAVENS VS. 49ERS 5:30 P.M. Sunday, Ch. 2

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Updated: February 1, 2013 4:06PM

NEW ORLEANS — Five days ago, if someone had magically transported Chris Culliver to Thursday and allowed him to watch himself living his life, it wouldn’t have taken him long to realize something had gone terribly wrong.

He would have seen a mob of reporters and TV cameramen pressing in on a relatively obscure 49ers nickelback sitting at a round table. On that player’s face was the look of someone who had just watched a hearse pass by with his name on it. Perhaps the biggest tip-off that his life had taken a turn for the worse was the fact that the first question about football wouldn’t arrive for about 25 minutes.

Five days ago, Culliver’s biggest concern was stopping the Ravens’ passing attack in Super Bowl ­XLVII. On Thursday, it was trying to explain why he wasn’t a homophobic idiot.

The cause of that dramatic shift was Culliver’s answers to questions about homosexuality in the NFL. A comedian had asked him on Media Day if any gay men had pursued him during Super Bowl week.

“I don’t do the gay guys, man. I don’t do that,” Culliver said. “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.’’

He went on to say he would not accept a gay teammate.

“Nah. Can’t be ... in the locker room, nah,” he said. “You’ve gotta to come out 10 years later after that.”

Well, OK then. You think things are getting better in society, that people are moving on, that how others live their lives shouldn’t matter, and then Chris Culliver pulls into town. The Chris Culliver who plays football in San Francisco, the gay capital of the United States.

Words matter. They are not disposable, no matter how impermanent they seem to be with social media. They can’t be snuffed out. No amount of Wite-Out can make what Culliver said go away.

He seemed contrite Thursday, but those original words of his didn’t come out of nowhere. He ­either believes them or miraculously, in a span of a few days, he has seen the light.

“I’m sorry I offended anyone,’’ he said. “Those were very ugly comments, and that’s not what I feel in my heart. Hopefully, I can learn and grow from this experience and situation.’’

The irony, of course, is that the 49ers were the first NFL team to get involved with the “It Gets Better’’ campaign, which works to let young gays know that, despite intolerance and harassment, life will improve for them. Culliver’s comments will lead some kids to question that.

Anybody who thinks American professional sports are ready for the first openly gay man might want to think again. Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, a gay-rights advocate and the father of two children, estimates that 50 percent of NFL players agree with Culliver’s original statements.

A gay football player coming out would not be the equivalent of Jackie Robinson breaking the color line in baseball. Robinson faced deep racism inside and outside of the clubhouse wherever he went. Whichever gay man comes out first will face huge challenges, but he’ll also have lots of people openly rooting for him inside and outside of the locker room.

It won’t be easy, as Culliver’s Media Day comments attest. His words were conciliatory but wouldn’t be mistaken for embracing.

Is the NFL ready for an openly gay player?

“I don’t know,’’ he said. “If it is, it’s upon that person to do whatever he or she feels.’’

Would he welcome a gay teammate?

“If it is, then it is,’’ he said. “Everybody’s treated equally in our locker room.’’

What has he learned from this?

“Keep my composure and not to do no interviews like that,’’ he said.

He said he has “quite a few relatives who are homosexuals.’’ He said that he talked with them about his comments and that they understood where he was coming from. Wherever that is.

Things always seem to happen in the week leading up to the Super Bowl — great, big things that end up with a life of their own. And so it made sense, in a Super Bowl kind of way, that a player from San Francisco, of all places, would make disparaging remarks about homosexuals. Fire, say hello to gasoline.

The epicenter of male machismo is still the locker room, and no matter how progressive society might be, athletes remind us that there’s still a long way to go. Words matter.

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