NEW ORLEANS - Cornerback Chris Culliver faced reporters along with the rest of his San Francisco 49ers teammates promptly at 8:15 a.m. CT on Thursday, the morning after his homophobic comments went viral.
Culliver, 24, was contrite and embarrassed for telling shock jock Artie Lange at media day Tuesday that he wouldn't accept a gay man on his football team. Culliver said his comments didn't reflect how he felt in his heart, and most of his responses would have fit into 140-character tweets. After a 45-minute question-and-answer period rife with awkward pauses and repeated questions from dozens of media members in a crowded hotel ballroom, Culliver was quickly and quietly escorted to a side door and out of view.
Here's how Culliver's morning unfolded after he sat down at a table to field questions before Bob Lange, the 49ers' director of public relations, broke a brief silence with his sentence: "Anybody want to ask him questions?"
And so it began:
•"What have the last 12 hours been like for you?"
•"When you were saying those things, what was your mindset?"
•"What was it like when you spoke to coach (Jim) Harbaugh?"
•"Would you welcome a homosexual teammate?"
•"Do you think you would've got a different reaction in another city?"
•"What kind of reaction did you get on Twitter?"
•"Have you talked to your teammates about it?"
•"Why do you think you said those things?"
•"Have you addressed your teammates about it?"
•"What do you mean when you say it's not how you feel?"
•"Did you dread this morning?"
•"What did you learn from this?"
•"Has this in any way affected your preparation for Sunday?"
•"Do you think the NFL is ready for a player to say he's a homosexual while playing?"
•"Do you realize that this will not be the last time you talk about it?"
•"Does all the media during Super Bowl week feel like a trap?"
•"Did you know who you were talking to?"
•"Could you tell he was a comedian?"
•"What made you respond to him at all?"
•"When he asked you the first question ... were you tempted to leave the interview?"
•"What do you want people to know about you?"
•"Were you dreading having to do this?" (second time)
•"Did you expect this kind of response?"
•"Do you expect practice to be a relaxing escape?"
•"What would you say to the people of San Francisco today?"
•"When you were asked, did you think he was joking around?"
•"What have you learned from this?" (second time)
•"Did anyone from your family talk to you about the comments?"
•"Why would you say something that was the exact opposite of what you believe?"
•"What would you say to San Franciscans who might be outraged by this?" (second time)
•"Do you have any relatives who are homosexuals who reached out to you?"
•"Did you learn that these relatives were gay before the conversations?"
•"Do you think your comments would make it uncomfortable for a teammate of yours who is gay?"
•"One of the Ravens, Brendon Ayanbadejo, has been outspoken about his beliefs that gay people should have the right to marry. Can you see yourself taking that stance?"
After a pause, the first of many, there were about four cameras focused on Culliver, a dozen microphones and recorders in front of him, and no one is saying a word. Finally, a scantily-clad Spanish language television host pipes up: "Do you think the media is making a big deal out of your comments?"
Then the questions pick back up.
•"How has it impacted your gamevday preparation?" (second time)
•"Did you ever think about walking away from the interview?" (second time)
•"How did you characterize the tone of the questions?" (second time)
•"Have you spoken to that reporter since?"
•"Do you consider him a reporter?"
•"What advice did (49ers safety) Donte Whitner give you?"
•"How many teammates approached you about this?"
•"What did you and Harbaugh talk about?" (second time)
•"Are you concerned that you'll be known as Chris Culliver, the guy who didn't want a gay teammate?"
•"Do you think that's how you will be known?"
•"How accepting would you be of a gay player?" (second time)
•"What would you like to say to the community of San Francisco?" (third time)
•"Have any gay or lesbian friends of yours had a conversation with you in the last 24 hours?"
•"In what ways did those conversations enlighten you?"
•"How prevalent is that attitude you expressed in the locker room? Is that a common sentiment?"
•"So do you know if you have a gay teammate?"
•"Who were the relatives who talked to you?"
•"Have the last 24 hours been difficult for you?" (second time)
•"Did you know right away that it was something you shouldn't have said?"
•"What are the mis-impressions people may have about you right now?"
•"When this is over, have you thought about reaching out to the gay and lesbian community back home?"
•"Have you spoken to any gay rights organizations?"
Amid a 20-second pause, Culliver stares blankly across the room filled with teammates talking to reporters.
Bob Lange then breaks the silence: "Anybody else?"
•"How did he ask the questions?"
•"Was the man who interviewed you in costume or dressed like a regular reporter?"
•"Is there a problem with the format of media day?"
•"How painful has this been for you?" (third time)
•"Was your mother mad at you?"
•"Did she ask you why you said it?"
•"Are you aware that leagues or teams take action against persons who say these things?"
•"Did you have any anxiety about coming down here today?" (fourth time)
•"How did you sleep?"
•"Chris, do you think you can put this behind you this week?"
•"Does this take anything away from this week for you?"
Then a 10-second pause, and the first football questions of the day.
•"On the field, are you happy with how you played this season? What do you feel are your biggest improvements?"
•"Are you ready to get back to playing football?"
•"When did you first know this exploded?"
•"Did you see it on TV?"
•"You knew that it was a big issue before practice?"
•"How did that practice go for you?"
After another 10-second pause, the horde begins to thin. Only one camera is focused on Culliver. Bob Lange stands behind Culliver, listening intently.
•"So you were already aware it was an issue at that point?"
•"Did you talk to any other coaches after you talked to the general manager?"
•"Did you talk to everyone at once or was it spaced out throughout the day?"
•"How long did the talks last?"
•"What were Harbaugh's thoughts?" (third time)
•"If you guys were to get back to the Super Bowl again, would you participate in media day?"
•"Have you talked to your gay relative about being gay over the years?"
•"Do you think what you're saying right now will convince people that you're not a homophobe?"
•"You were pretty stressed last night over this?" (second time)
Then matters got really awkward. Six reporters remain at the table, and no one says a word for 45 seconds. Several are staring at Culliver, some at their recorders. Culliver focuses on the table in front of him.
Bob Lange: "Does anybody want to talk football? About the Super Bowl?"
Mercifully, some football queries after another 15-second interlude.
•"What's it like going against Vernon (Davis) on the practice field?"
•"How has Vernon changed personally over the course of his career?"
•"Do you take anything from the way he's grown up?"
•"Has this past half hour been as hard as you thought it would be?"
•"What did you expect out of this?"
New reporters trickle in after another 33-second break.
•"Will this make you more cautious about what you say to people?"
Replies Culliver: "It just makes me not want to do interviews."
•"Chris, after all this happened, was there a moment where you thought to yourself, 'I can't believe I said this?' "
Fifteen more seconds go by.
•"When you came and saw what Super Bowl week was like, did you pause and say, 'Oh my God? ' "
•"If someone asked you that question again, what do you think your response would be?"
•"Why do you think his first question was disrespectful?"
•"Did you think you were led down the path of answering that way?"
At this point, maybe five reporters remain, and they start looking at each other, hoping somebody will say something. They wait for a full minute in complete silence.
•"Did you talk to any guys about what Super Bowl week would be like?"
•"Did you expect this much attention on the whole week?"
Bay Area columnist Monte Poole tries to lighten the mood.
•"What's your hometown like? What did you learn in Philadelphia before you went to college?"
•"Which side did you grow up on?"
•"When you went off to college, how was that lifestyle different than what you had in Philly?"
•"How was it going from a big town to a small town?"
Then, wham, another reporter brings it back to the topic of the day.
•"Is this the toughest thing you've been through?"
Culliver answers politely, then turns to Poole and says: "I like your questions."
Poole laughs. Another reporter keeps at it.
•"What can the NFL do to make locker rooms a welcome place for gays?"
•"How many hours of sleep did you get?"
Culliver asks Poole for more questions. After a 10-second silence, Poole obliges.
•"Who recruited you in college?"
Then a reporter who wasn't around for the first 40 minutes redirects the conversation ... again.
•"Did you expect to get questions today about everything that went down?"
•"How did you prepare yourself for it?"
•"Do you feel this has been unfair at all?"
Bob Lange checks his watch and puts and end to the interview, declaring: "We're actually all done guys."
By Robert Klemko