(Jaden Bell, 15, who hung himself Jan 15 because of bullying. Photo via Raw Story)
I love football. I’m not an aficionado like Condoleezza Rice. But when I was a kid, I used to play touch football in the backyard with the boys and more importantly, football was a subject my father and I could talk about. Those talks made me feel less alienated. As an adult, watching football provides moments of excitement and a mental health break from the cares of the world. Since Los Angeles doesn’t have a team, I cheer for other California teams—and Sunday that would have been the San Francisco 49ers against the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl.
Not anymore. I was blown away by the anti-gay remarks made by 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver—for which he has since awkwardly apologized. Comments made, curiously enough, shortly after former 49ers offensive tackle Kwame Harris was brought up on charges of assaulting his ex-boyfriend. But adding fuel to the fire, 49ers’ linebacker Ahmad Brooks and nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga told USA Today Sports that they didn’t really participate in the 49ers' highly appreciated “It Gets Better.” The publication reports:
“This is America and if someone wants to be gay, they can be gay,” Brooks told the publication. “But I didn’t make any video.” Later, after he was reportedly shown the video on an iPhone, the player clarified, “Oh, that. It was an anti-bullying video, not a gay [rights] video.”
Even more curiously, Sopoaga similarly denied taking part in the clip, even as a teammate reportedly tried to jog his memory. “I never went,” he declared. “And now someone is using my name.”
Since then, “It Gets Better” Project founder Dan Savage has taken the 49ers video down from the site.
The Courage Campaign notes that 49ers CEO Jed York and Coach Harbaugh spoke with Culliver privately and spoke out publicly against his comments—and has set up a “thank you” letter to them for being good allies.
But that doesn’t make up for the disappointment in a team I believed stood up for LGBT people and wanted to make a difference in the lives of suffering LGBT youth. Youth like Phillip Parker, age 14, an 8th grader from Tennessee; or Jerad Meriweather, also 14, also an 8th grader from Georgia; or Jadin Bell, age 15, in 9th grade in Oregon. These three kids committed suicide because of bullying last month.
Raw Story reports that Jadin Bell hung himself on Saturday, Jan. 19:
“He was different, and they tend to pick on the different ones,” said family friend Bud Hill, who considered Bell to be like a nephew. “If someone was down and out he would walk into a room and say a couple quick words and everybody would just forget about their problems and smile. He just had a gift.”
Bell had begged his parents to allow him to be home schooled and when that failed, he appealed to school administrators for help. Authorities were investigating the matter when he hung himself from the jungle gym on the playground at La Garde’s Central Elementary School.
Meanwhile, the Huffington Post is reporting that Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said he and his teammates would welcome an openly gay player. He told NBC Sports:
“We don’t care. Our biggest thing in the locker room is to just have fun and stay loose ... On this team, with so many different personalities, we just accept people for who they are and we don’t really care too much about a player’s sexuality … You know who you are, and we accept you for it.”
The Raven’s Brendon Ayanbadejo is already an outspoken advocate for marriage equality and promised to use the Super Bowl XLVII as a platform for LGBT rights.
So, in the name of Phillip Parker, Jerad Meriweather and Jadin Bell—and people like me who use football to communicate—I say: GO RAVENS!