Prior to making his homophobic comments, Chris Culliver was best known as the 49ers nickelback. / Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports
NEW ORLEANS - San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver said Thursday morning he would accept a gay teammate as he apologized for homophobic comments he made earlier this week on a national radio show's podcast.
"Everyone is treated equally in our locker room," Culliver said.
Culliver previously told radio host Artie Lange that gay players would not be welcome in the 49ers locker room.
"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 said in the interview taped on Tuesday's media day at the Superdome.
Culliver was swarmed by reporters at the 49ers' media availability Thursday morning, a day after his statements went viral. He said he spoke with head coach Jim Harbaugh, other 49ers coaches and general manager Trent Baalke on Wednesday and told his bosses that he would "learn and grow" from the experience.
Culliver said he made the comments in a "joking" manner.
"I was really not thinking. Or, something I thought, but not something that I feel in my heart," Culliver said. "I'm sorry that I offended anyone. They were very ugly comments, and that's not what I feel in my heart. Hopefully, I can learn and grow from this experience and this situation. I love San Francisco."
Culliver said he did not see the reaction to his comments on Twitter, nor did he talk about them or the backlash with teammates.
"I'm not trying to bring any distraction to the team. We're trying to win a Super Bowl," Culliver said.
Harbaugh, who spoke with reporters before Culliver did, seemed to offer support to the embattled player.
"I do believe that there wasn't malice in his heart. He's not that kind of person. He's not an ugly person, he's not a discriminating person," Harbaugh said. "He may have heard talk like that and may have thought that that those were opinions that he learned and repeated those. He regrets that. That's not who he is. That's not what he really believes."
Harbaugh spoke with Culliver about the comments, and though the coach declined to detail what they spoke about, Harbaugh said he believes Culliver will learn a lesson from the experience. The comments were met with massive backlash, and the team yesterday issued a strong statement condemning Culliver's comments.
"I think it took this incident, to hear those words being said by him, to see them written down on paper for him to realize they were hurtful and ugly and I think, I know, that he's taken that to heart," Harbaugh said. "I really believe that this is something he'll learn and grow from."
Culliver's comments are rooted from news Monday that former 49ers offensive tackle Kwame Harris was in court for a pretrial appearance on charges that he assaulted a former boyfriend. Harris last played for the Niners in 2007, but many of his former teammates offered him support Tuesday at media day.
Veteran wide receiver Randy Moss, who has played for five different teams over 14 seasons, said he wouldn't judge a teammate based on his sexual orientation.
"I mean, you see how they react, how they go about their day, (and) you sometimes wonder. But it's not my position to call them out, make them look bad or make fun of them. We're all human," Moss said Thursday. "If that's what you choose to do, that's what you choose to do. I don't think we should tear a man's head off because of his sexual preference."
The 49ers in August became the first NFL team to release a video as part of the "It Gets Better" campaign, which provides support for gay and lesbian teens. Safety Donte Whitner, defensive linemen Ricky Jean-Francois and Isaac Sapoaga and linebacker Ahmad Brooks participated in the video, though only Whitner specifically mentions the LGBT community. The other players condemned bullying.
"On behalf of the entire San Francisco 49ers organization, we are on your side. And we promise, it gets better," Whitner said in the video.
Culliver's comments resonated nationally but had the potential to hit particularly hard in San Francisco, one of the most diverse and LGBT-friendly cities in the country.
"There is definitely the potential for it to be more sensitive because of where we're at," said fullback Bruce Miller. "But it's sensitive everywhere."
San Francisco players seated at other tables Thursday inside the Marriott ballroom gawked at the media horde around Culliver. Players were warned by their coaches earlier in the week about not becoming a Super Bowl week distraction - the exact situation Culliver created when he participated in the interview with Lange.
Lange asked many players about sex, in very vulgar terms, as he walked through the crowd at media day. His first question to Culliver was about sex, and Culliver said he felt "a little offended" but continued to do the interview anyway because he felt like he couldn't get away.
"I just consider him a comedian. Guys like that shouldn't harass players like us," Culliver said.
Culliver, 24, said he has intends to reach out to San Francisco's gay community, though he has yet to hear from any LGBT groups.
Follow Lindsay H. Jones on Twitter @bylindsayhjones
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