Even after four years of sitting through countless high school football games (I played the piccolo and flute in the marching band), I still cannot follow football and all of its terms. 1st down, 2nd down … what? But in the wake of Super Bowl weekend, writing about how football connects with public relations seemed relevant in one particular case.
In February, the San Francisco 49ers cornerback, Chris Culliver, decided to share his rather blunt take on homosexuality during a Super Bowl media day interview with comedian/radio personality, Artie Lange. When Lange questioned Culliver about whether there were gay people on his team, Culliver’s response was anything but considerate.
“I don’t do the gay guys. I don’t do that,” Culliver told Lange, who had asked the cornerback if he ever had been approached by a homosexual player.
What’s even worse is that the 49ers participate in the NFL’s “It Gets Better,” an anti-bullying campaign. So much for keeping NFL support in mind! San Francisco and the Bay area, are considered more progressive and open-minded in general, and the city serves as home to a growing and significant gay community. Ouch.
“We ain’t got no gay people on the team,” Culliver told Lange. “They gotta get up out here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff. … Nah can’t be … in the locker room, man.”
Culliver’s choice to openly share his thoughts on homosexuality definitely didn’t help his team’s image. Although Culliver is not considered one of the team’s top players, the statement still stung in terms of the media coverage it received.
Not surprisingly, one day later, the cornerback issued an apology:
“The derogatory comments I made yesterday were a reflection of thoughts in my head, but they are not how I feel,” Culliver said in a statement released by the team.
“It has taken me seeing them in print to realize that they are hurtful and ugly. Those discriminating feelings are truly not in my heart. Further, I apologize to those who I have hurt and offended, and I pledge to learn and grow from this experience.”
According to his public relations representative, Theodore Palmer, Chris is “very apologetic for any harm caused to anyone.” Palmer also said that Chris “celebrates the differences of others. All of this was just a big mistake. It was interpreted wrong.” Too bad Culliver only had one shot to have his words interpreted.
The team also made a statement reminding the public that there is no place for discrimination in its organization and that it will continue to proudly support the LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) community.
Post-Super Bowl, not only will Culliver miss a trip to Disneyworld, but he’ll also be making his way over to sensitivity training and education. As a result of his remarks, Culliver will be working with the “Trevor Project,” an organization that assists LGBT youths with crisis intervention and suicide prevention in the coming weeks.
How did Culliver’s comments affect his image? Did fans truly take the statements to heart? In Palmer’s shoes (as a PR professional), how could you have handled the situation differently?