The San Francisco 49ers lost the Super Bowl last Sunday after attempting to come back from a 22-point deficit in the second half. Miscommunication on a 4th down drive in the red zone left the 49ers without the necessary touchdown to put them ahead, allowing the Baltimore Ravens to run down the clock and come away with the victory. But the 49ers had a miscommunication off the field last week as well.
Four players from the 49ers starred in a video for It Gets Better, an organization that creates videos sending a positive message to LGBTQ youth who are bullied or feel isolated. The 49ers were the first NFL team to film an It Gets Better video, but last week, the video was pulled from the organization’s website after two of the video’s stars said they were never even involved with the video.
Linebacker Ahmad Brooks and defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga were asked about their involvement in the video and they both believed they were in an anti-bullying video — not one directed toward bullied LGBTQ youth. Granted, within the video, neither Brooks nor Sopoaga said anything that would tip them off that they were making a video in support of those who face anti-gay bullying. Only safety Donte Whitner said anything related to the LGBTQ community.
“The San Francisco 49ers are proud to join itgetsbetter.org to let all LGBT teens know that it gets better,” Whitner said. “On behalf of the entire 49ers organization, we are on your side. And we promise: it gets better.”
This video comes after 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said he would support any player playing for his team, regardless of sexual orientation.
“I ask all players to play through their own personality and be who they are,” Harbaugh said. “What you ask of a player is to be a great teammate and be a good player. My expectations would be the same.”
This miscommunication from the 49ers players and coaches escalated with homophobic comments from cornerback Chris Culliver. When asked if he would accept gay players playing for his team, Culliver said he would not. He went on to say that if there were a gay player in the NFL, they should keep it a secret from other players until 10 years after they leave the league. Harbaugh and the rest of the 49ers organization were quick to say they did not agree with Culliver’s comments.
“There is no place for discrimination within our organization at any level,” said a representative of the 49ers. “We have and always will proudly support the LGBT community.”
These vast differences in opinion in the 49ers locker room bring up a really great question. How well does the LGBTQ community assimilate into American sports teams? On the professional level, I know there are no openly gay men playing in the NFL, though some have come out after retiring.
Brendon Ayanbadejo, linebacker for the Super Bowl champions Baltimore Ravens, is a strong LGBTQ activist. He has posed for a NOH8 photo shoot and recently starred in a video called “Time For Marriage,” in which he advocates for marriage equality.
In the NBA, John Amaechi was the first player to be openly gay, though he, too, waited until after retirement to come out. Now he works with multiple LGBTQ organizations, including the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the Human Rights Campaign.
On the women’s national soccer team, Megan Rapinoe came out in the summer of 2012, right before she helped lead the U.S. team to a gold medal in the London Olympics. Rapinoe still plays for the U.S. women’s team as well as the newly formed Seattle Reign, whose inaugural season begins this spring.
Acceptance of LGBTQ players in the sports world is shifting along with the rest of the movement. As we’ve seen with Harbaugh, Ayanbadejo, Rapinoe and others, acceptance among players and coaches is moving in the right direction. It’s incredibly important that more players and coaches of all sports feel comfortable enough to come out. Because of the spotlight these athletes are in, many are in positions to be excellent role models for LGBTQ youth who currently play or want to play sports. But, more importantly, the acceptance from teammates and coaches show us that being an ally can help improve your own team as well as your community.
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