NEW ORLEANS — 49ers safety Donte Whitner said teammate Chris Culliver should be prepared for a strong backlash from the Bay Area gay community even though the young cornerback was contrite and apologetic Thursday in the wake of making anti-gay remarks on a radio show earlier this week.
"Hopefully, there's not," Whitner said. "But if I was a gambling man, I would probably think there (will be a backlash). That's why the comments that he made were so big, because the city we're actually in, there is a large population of people who are gay. There are probably a large number of people who come to Candlestick Park every weekend that are gay. It was just a mistake by him and I know he wishes he could take it back."
Whitner said Culliver is a young, naÃ¯ve player who doesn't always think before he acts or speaks, but that he need not be counseled in-depth regarding his anti-gay slurs.
"I guarantee he has learned his lesson now," he said. "He's a young guy, it's his second year in the league and a lot of this is new to him. Everybody else in our secondary is older. We have 6-7 years in at ages from 27-31. Chris is 22-23 years old, so we're always trying to teach him lessons. He is sort of the young, flamboyant type of kid sometimes. Sometimes he does things we don't know why he does them. That's Chris. But we'll all say bits and pieces to him and he'll get past this and won't make this same mistake again."
Whitner added that Culliver's upbringing may have had something to do with his stance.
"It might be like a macho type of thing," he said. "A lot of people are raised in a lot of different ways. You don't know how that person was raised. Their parents could have been against gay. But I have family members that are gay. If you can accept a family member who is gay, you can accept anybody who is gay. That's the way I feel about it."
But he added there could be gay individuals on any team, including the 49ers.
"We are players in the NFL, but we are also human," he said. "Who knows, there could be someone who's gay in our locker room right now that's scared to come out, which he has a right to be if he is because of all of this and how other teammates might feel. I feel like anybody can be who they want to be as long as you don't disrespect other people and go about your business in your own way."
Whitner said as far as society has come in terms of gay acceptance, he doesn't think the NFL is ready yet for an openly gay player.
"I don't think that bridge has been built yet," he said. "I think there are a lot of people who are afraid to come out, because they're going to be scrutinized. People are going to look at them differently. If you have friends that are straight, a lot of people don't want to be seen with people that are gay. And there are a lot of people who aren't comfortable being in the locker room naked and walking around with somebody that's gay.
"Football is a rough game, a very rough game," Whitner continued. "I guess when you think of football, you don't think of somebody being gay. The facts are, there are people in the NFL right now who are scared to come out. That's the facts about it. I don't really know 100 percent, but I can guarantee there are people in the NFL who are gay right now."
Safety Dashon Goldson said he was good friends with former lineman Kwame Harris, but didn't know he was gay when he was playing.
"Kwame was a great guy, I knew Kwame," Goldson said. "He was on our football team. He was a respectful guy. I never knew he was gay. It wouldn't have mattered if I did, just because of the guy he was. He never tried to do anything to anybody, he never said anything disrespectful. He was just a football player in the locker room."
Wide receiver Randy Moss said it's high time all people, but particularly football players, get past their prejudices regarding gays.
"I don't think we should tear a man's head off or a woman's head off just because of their sexual preference," Moss said. "I think we're all good people. I really believe we should be able to look beyond that in this day and age. It's here in our world, it's not like it just came yesterday. So for us to act like, 'Oh my God, this is like a bad disease that just hit our country,' it's not."