Yesterday, Chris Culliver shared a circular table with Tarell Brown during the 49ers media availability session. When I asked Brown a few questions, Culliver seemed annoyed that I was neglecting him, that I chose T-Brown over Cully.
Culliver was stationed at the same spot this morning, but it was a totally different scene. Several cameras were trained on his seat, poised to capture every move and facial expression. Microphones were on the table, resting on water classes at the perfect angle to catch every contrite word.
While Jim Harbaugh spoke at the podium on the other side of the conference room on the third floor of the Marriott Hotel, a huge crowd waited for Culliver to appear. I panned across what surrounded me as we all waited in this 17-second clip (you’ll hear people telling Art Spander to back up, since he was standing pretty much on top of Culliver’s chair):
A red double-sided piece of styrofoam bearing Brown’s name was removed while Patrick Willis spoke at the main podium, out of view. Normally everyone in the building would be trained on Willis, but not today. A member of the 49ers PR staff came and removed Brown’s place card, mercifully removing him from the chaos.
When Culliver walked around the cameras and people and sat down at the same spot where he looked so lonely yesterday, he looked as one would expect: sad. One of the reporters jokingly said, “Chris, the Ravens receivers…”
Culliver didn’t smile.
There was an awkward silence, as no one wanted to be the first person to broach the subject. “Ask him,” someone said from behind one of the cameras. Then the questions started, and Culliver weathered the storm the best he could.
“It wasn’t what I feel in my heart, and I apologize to anyone I offended,” Culliver said. He repeated some version of that statement several times in a very soft voice, much different than the playful, teasing tone he took with me yesterday. After about five minutes, I left the scrum to talk to other 49ers. One benefit from today’s crazy scene, from a personal angle: it was a lot less crowded around every other player this morning.
Reactions from Harbaugh and Donte Whitner
— “There’s not malice in his heart. He’s not an ugly person. He’s not a discriminatory person,” Harbaugh said. “I really believe that this is something that he’ll learn and grow from.”
Culliver said that his conversation with Harbaugh was a private matter, and it’s safe to assume that it was a one-sided conversation.
— While Whitner said he didn’t say much to Culliver, and that he wanted to face “this” (meaning dozens of media members converging upon him this morning) first. But as one of the leaders of the defense, it was clear he and his teammates made it known that what Culliver said was not okay.
“He’s a young guy. We’re older guys in the secondary. It’s our duty for him not to make that mistake, so you won’t see that again,” Whitner said.
Whitner, who along with three other 49ers filmed a minute-long spot for the “It Gets Better” campaign, said Culliver’s comments bothered him.
“Yeah, it pinches you a little bit. Chris, he didn’t really know what he was doing at that moment. He didn’t know what he was saying. It was a long day, a lot of questions, he’s not used to it. He just answered the question incorrectly, and it won’t happen again.”