Recently, Chris Culliver of the San Francisco 49ers expressed negative sentiment toward the LGBT community in an interview. The National Football League mandated that he take sensitivity classes, and unofficially forced him to apologize for his remarks. The 49ers organization also reprimanded him.
Culliver, like most professional athletes, is not exactly an authority on current events and public policy. Ultimately, his opinion is not going to affect the decisions of the NFL or any government. Why did the NFL care, then, and slap him on the wrist? They cared, like everyone should, because professional athletes have an inordinate amount of influence on our nation’s youth. The NFL is one of the largest businesses in our country, and it employs more than a thousand athletes that all act as public figures in one way or another.
It is for that reason that the opinions of these athletes have to be taken seriously. When I was growing up, I idolized Barry Bonds—a former San Francisco Giants player. When it eventually came out that he cheated via the use of performance enhancing drugs, it hurt me personally. I also carry a more relaxed attitude toward performance enhancing drugs now, and that’s probably because I still want to believe that Bonds was innocent and clean. Luckily, the use of performance enhancing drugs is an issue confined almost exclusively to sports. Bonds’ choices didn’t affect a large part of my life.
Players like Culliver, however, become public figures that stand for wide-reaching ideas. Tim Tebow’s entire marketability is centered around his evangelical faith—what he does on the field is secondary. With so many fans, the NFL and the country had better be careful about handling the public’s perception of players like Tebow. People old enough to have formed their own opinions on most subjects are largely unaffected by these athletes’ opinions. It’s the young kids that we need to be worried for. It isn’t right for their views to be dictated by complete strangers that have their words replayed over the airwaves.