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Jim Harbaugh can't let player's foolish comments distract 49ers

Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 10:32 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS — Oh, to be a fly on the wall Wednesday afternoon, to watch the poor bloke assigned the unwanted task timidly approach the biggest control freak and most tightly wound coach in the NFL.

“Jim, I got something to tell you,” the bloke would say, before launching into a summary of 49ers defensive back Chris Culliver's homophobic remarks.

Imagine the sound of thunder. Imagine a chair being airlifted across the room. Imagine words used by sailors on shore leave after six months at sea.

Culliver has gone brain dead. On Tuesday, he told a radio shock jock gays aren't welcome on the 49ers. “I don't do the gays, man ... Can't be with that sweet stuff ... They gotta get up out of here if they do.” While his syntax was garbled, not revealing a highly educated man, Culliver's intent was clear even if his language was not.

He's an idiot.

More importantly, what does Harbaugh do about it? Culliver has just become the biggest story of Super Bowl XLVII for the wrong reason.

We once thought the enduring image would be Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis chasing deer and their antlers through a forest for their sweet stuff. However sketchy and ridiculous, at least that story had a little bite to it. This? This is a shark threatening to gobble up everything in its path, including Harbaugh's obsessive and hard-fought attempt to eliminate distractions and keep everyone focused.

It was working until Wednesday. Apparently Culliver didn't get the memo that months ago when Harbaugh announced he does not discriminate. He just wants players. Apparently Culliver forgot the 49ers have worked hard to support the LGBT community. Apparently Culliver forget he plays for a team in San Francisco and that while his remarks would be viewed with revulsion anywhere, they are particularly toxic in the Bay Area.

“There's an easy way out of that (responding),” said Mike Roan, the El Molino athletic director who played tight end for the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV. “You just say no comment.”

Roan remembers his Super Bowl week. “It's one of my burning memories of the week,” he said, “walking into the interview rooms and being descended upon by so many people.”

Roan had his radar up, as most players do. Roan thought Culliver, 24, should have known something was awry when Artie Lange began the one-minute interview — yes it lasted only one minute — by asking Culliver how many white women did he plan to have sex with during Super Bowl week. Right then, Culliver should have excused himself and left the room as if his hair was on fire. Culliver stayed, clearly starved for attention. A nickel back on pass coverage doesn't get a lot of Super Bowl interest.

“Harbaugh has done such a good job with keeping his team focused,” Roan said, “I think he'll be all right.”

No one knows, of course. The impact has yet to play out; the story is still gathering legs. The Super Bowl is still days away and judging how Culliver and his publicity man have tried to spin it, they didn't get themselves out from under it. If anything, they piled more logs on the fire Culliver started.

“The derogatory comments I made yesterday were a reflection of thoughts in my head, but this is not how I feel,” Culliver said in a prepared statement.

Huh? So his thoughts were like marbles, bouncing around inside his head, with no direction and purpose? All the while he is feeling deep love for people of all backgrounds? This is the way a drunk talks to a cop who just pulled him over: “I like drinking while driving but that isn't how I actually feel about it.” That'll get him in the back seat of police cruiser.

“All of this was just a big mistake,” said his agent Theodore Palmer. “It was interpreted wrong.”

Now I know how difficult it must be to defend an idiot.

“Hopefully he doesn't believe those things,” Roan said, “and just got caught up in the moment.”

This is what Harbaugh should do.

Remove Culliver from the Super Bowl. Sure, it might hurt the 49ers' chances but what's more important here — Winning a football game or ethical integrity? Homophobia or tolerance? Anger or compassion?

Should we act as if all of a sudden, in just 24 hours, Culliver stopped being a homophobe? I'd believe the marbles in the head before I would believe this.

So many times we have seen professional athletes say and do whatever they pleased. And their team bails them out, spinning the embarrassment to where it almost feels harmless.

Not this time. The 49ers can't shovel this under the Superdome carpet, not with 3,000 media members around America's biggest and most glamorous stage in sports. They can't just say Chris Culliver has learned his lesson and so there you have it. They just can't do that. They just can't.

(You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.)

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