It doesn't matter that 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver tried to take back his antigay remarks.
By saying on Artie Lange's national radio show during last week's Super Bowl media day that San Francisco "ain't got no gay people on the team. They gotta get up outta here if they do. Can't be with that sweet stuff," Culliver reminded that even in a time when homosexuality is so much more accepted as part of society, it still seems treacherous for a male gay athlete to be "out" while playing.
That's why it was interesting that in a survey of 22 of the Lightning's 23 players (one was unavailable), all said they generally would be fine with an openly gay teammate. None said they knowingly had played with one.
To be sure, some players were wary, saying their acceptance depended on the dressing room dynamic not turning "weird" or "awkward."
But most comments went like this:
"Not everyone has to agree with it, but if someone in our locker room you were a friend with would come out, for me, personally, I wouldn't have a problem with it," center Steven Stamkos said. "He's still a teammate. He still has your back on the ice. That's just the way it is."
"We're a team, a family," right wing Teddy Purcell said. "We don't look at anybody different like that. Everybody is different. Some guys like cars; some like trucks. You don't really care. As long as he's a good team guy and helps us win, we'll take anybody."
Stamkos and several other NHL stars even have done public service announcements for the You Can Play Project, which its website says is "dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation."
You Can Play was started by Patrick Burke, son of former NHL general manager Brian Burke, whose late son, Brendan, was openly gay as a member of the Miami (Ohio) University hockey staff. He was killed in a 2010 car crash.
"I think it's important for people to realize things like that shouldn't change the way that person feels or the way you feel toward them," Stamkos said.
Will we see an openly gay male athlete in a team sport soon? Left wing Ryan Malone believes so.
"It just takes one person," he said. "You see people coming out at younger ages now, so, I mean, I would assume at some point the way the world is going, you will see that."
Asked about Culliver's comments, Malone said, "Everyone sees the world in a different way, but for a team guy, it would be hard to think that way. It doesn't matter who they like, they still have to do their job on the football field or the ice or wherever it is, so it doesn't really matter."