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National Columnist

Culliver played the role of the ignorant, and then we played along

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NEW ORLEANS -- Out of the blue, Chris Culliver happened. What happened next? We happened next. You. Me. All of us. Chris Culliver happened and that was a shock, but what happened next was no shock. It unfolded like a script, and congratulations to all of us -- we nailed our lines.

The media at Super Bowl XLVII, waiting for something to happen? We stopped waiting. It just happened. A cornerback for the San Francisco 49ers said something ugly about homosexuality. There's our story. So we wrote it.

People who thrive on the mistakes of others have been doing big business on Twitter and other places thanks to Culliver. Hurry -- this is your chance to show how enlightened you are. Relish in the moral superiority.

Not that everyone rejected Culliver's remarks about homosexuality. For those who don't approve of homosexuality -- sorry, the homosexual lifestyle -- Culliver was speaking their language when he said all sorts of vile and mean-spirited things about gay people, saying stuff like "[I] can't be with that sweet stuff" and adding "we don't got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do" and concluding that anyone gay on his team had better wait at least 10 years after retirement to announce that bit of bad news.

It was dumb, what Chris Culliver said, but what happened next was dumber.

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We acted like Chris Culliver matters.

He doesn't matter. Not outside the offices of 49ers owner Jed York, who has tried hard and successfully to partner with the San Francisco area's LGBT community, and who surely took Culliver's dumb comments as a betrayal of those efforts.

But everywhere else -- the big picture, the smaller picture, any picture I can imagine -- Chris Culliver doesn't matter. He's not a congressman. He's not writing laws for this country. He's just an ignorant fool who said something ignorant and foolish, but Chris Culliver saying what he said isn't going to affect how people view homosexuality, because people have already decided. They're dug in, on both sides. He's not going to change the world. Reserve cornerback Chris Culliver?

Really?

If the speaker doesn't matter, then how much can his words possibly mean?

I'm not saying everyone had to ignore Chris Culliver. We couldn't, not after he set in motion a predictable wave of events by going on with comedian Artie Lange and saying the stupid things he said. The only winner in this whole story, by the way, is Lange, who won in much the same way that an ambulance-chasing lawyer wins when two ambulances crash in front of his shingle. Lange is a crude entertainer who wins when people outside his immediate family acknowledge his existence.

It's no coincidence that people like Chris Culliver and Artie Lange are at the center of this story. Lange can't get important players to talk to him, so he takes Chris Culliver. And Culliver can't get important media figures to interview him, so he takes Artie Lange.

Now everybody wants to talk to Culliver, because all of a sudden he matters. Whether it's hate speech or something else, we love it when somebody with a public forum, however small that forum may be, says something politically incorrect. Some of us love it because we're thrilled that someone finally said what we've been thinking. The rest of us love it because we hate it -- and if there's one thing that makes us happy, it's the chance to be unhappy.

Culliver gave us that chance, and we stepped in it. Partly, we had to. Statements like those Culliver made can't be met with silence, because some would see that silence as tantamount to approval. Culliver had to be rebuked, and the 49ers rebuked him thoroughly. Coach Jim Harbaugh met with Culliver almost immediately and said that as an organization "we reject what he said." The team also made that clear in a statement that said the 49ers "reject [Culliver's] comments. ... There is no place for discrimination within our organization at any level."

In a perfect world, that would have been enough. But this world isn't perfect. Culliver showed that by saying what he said, and then we reinforced it by freaking out like we did. An editor at the Huffington Post wrote that "there is no question that Culliver must be suspended." A reporter asked Jim Harbaugh if the comments "will impact his playing time in the Super Bowl." (Harbaugh didn't say yes or no, saying only that the comments would impact Culliver as a person more than anything else.)

At Change.org, which calls itself "the world's petition platform," a petition was created urging the NFL to "send Culliver to spend a day with the New York Gay Football League."

Three gay advocacy groups -- GLAAD, Athlete Ally and the You Can Play Project -- offered individual or joint statements denouncing Culliver's remarks.

The message board below this Culliver story at CBSSports.com was a congregational hotspot. Other websites had similar hotspots. Radio had something to talk about. You had, in Culliver's comments, something to enthusiastically celebrate -- or something to passionately reject.

Chris Culliver, meanwhile, has apologized -- repeatedly, vulnerably, convincingly and publicly. He issued a statement. He met the media. Over and over he said he was sorry, and thus our circle was complete.

Athlete says something awful. Media shrieks. Neanderthals rejoice. Advocacy groups advocate. It's the dance we do, and the music never stops.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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