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If Chris Culliver's sincere, he needs to live up to apology

Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 8:48 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 8:48 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS

He had been taken to the verbal woodshed, that's what Chris Culliver looked like when he sat down to his media table Thursday morning at the Marriott. His face was empty of feeling. His voice was monotone. As the questions came at him like so many bullets at his self-respect, Culliver never blanched, winced or quivered. One got the sense all those emotions had been purged from him by 49ers management in the last 12 hours. He had been laid open.

“I didn't sleep much,” the defensive back said. “I twisted and I turned. It affected me.”

The cornerback was trying to reduce the firestorm he created a day earlier. His anti-gay remarks to a shock jock five days before Super Bowl XLVII resulted in Culliver on Wednesday night being sent to the principal's office, i.e. the hotel room of coach Jim Harbaugh. For over an hour, Culliver said, he was in there with Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke. Culliver wouldn't reveal the details of the meeting, although it was apparent the desired result of contriteness was achieved.

“I'm sorry if I offended anyone,” Culliver said. “There were very ugly comments. I should have took time and thought about it (before responding). That's not what I feel in my heart.”

Culliver said that 10 times in the 45 minutes he spoke: He didn't feel it (homophobia) in his heart. It's how he thinks but it's not how he feels. It's in his head, yes, but not in his heart. Putting your mind around all that could give you a headache, like the following three sentences.

“(I was) really just not thinking. (It was) something that I thought. Definitely nothing that I felt in my heart.”

Felt like Yogi Berra was explaining something to me.

Culliver said, “I have homosexual relatives who called me immediately” when they heard of his remarks. He reassured them he is not a homophobe, as he did to his mother, who also phoned him.

Would he accept a homosexual teammate? “If it is, it is,” said the Zen master.

Culliver said he felt it “very disrespectful” when the shock jock opened the interview by asking how many white women would Culliver like to have sex with this week. Yes, Culliver said, he had the urge to leave the interview right there but there were so many people around the interview table he felt helpless. He apparently also felt “no comment” was not an exit option.

“Did you feel you were being led down a path and then he opened the trapdoor?” I asked. Culliver nodded.

Does he think people will believe that he is sincere?

“I hope people understand,” Culliver said. “That's why I am telling the whole world right now.”

I believe Culliver was sincere. I believe he was humbled, embarrassed and regretful he said what he said. I also believe he will think twice before answering any question that doesn't involve pass coverage.

But do I believe he's changed his view toward homosexuality? In the last 24 hours? No. Do I believe that sincerity I saw Thursday will last longer than instant coffee? No. The only thing I know for certain: Culliver wishes he had never opened his mouth to Artie Lange. Jed York, the 49ers chief executive officer, presented Culliver with a very clear picture of where he should go from here.

“It's up to you to live up to your apology,” York told Culliver. “(If you don't) people are going to vilify you and rightfully so.”

Too many athletes have made empty apologies. They apologize for their remarks and move on, keeping their racist, sexist or homophobic beliefs to themselves. York wants more out of Culliver than that. He said he will take Culliver to LGBT groups in the South Bay. He said he will have Culliver meet teenagers who are struggling with their identity but otherwise experience the same joys, frustrations and excitement that Culliver himself knew as a teenager.

York wants Culliver to be remembered as someone who made a huge mistake, went viral and international in minutes, then reduced it to a single sentence because of what he did after that. Study Michael Vick and his story. Go out and do something about this distasteful image you just created. Culliver doesn't have to remain the answer to a Super Bowl trivia question: “Who went knucklehead in Super Bowl XLVII?”

Ultimately Culliver needs to go to communities by himself, without prompting. He can be an agent of change in the homophobic NFL. Culliver said he already has reached out to the gay community. York believes Culliver's only failing is that he just hasn't seen enough of the world yet, that he spoke out of ignorance, not of hatred. He just needs to open up his mind. After all, from what Culliver told us, his heart is already there.

For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky's blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.

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