"That's not what's in my heart," Culliver said Thursday, echoing what 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh had told reporters about his view of Culliver minutes before. "Everyone is treated equally in our locker room."
"There's not malice in his heart," Harbaugh said. "He's not an ugly person. He's not a discriminatory person. I really believe that this is something that he'll learn and grow from."
Culliver said he is "sorry if he offended anyone," and added that, "They were very ugly comments."
But as Culliver, his teammates - and then an hour or so later, the Baltimore Ravens - discussed the matter, the whole business became less about what Culliver said and more about a big topic in pro sports that hadn't found a platform this week before Culliver gave it one . That would be athletes' attitudes toward homosexuality, the fact that no active male professional U.S. team-sport member has ever come out while still playing, the debate over how close we are to that happening, and how transformational culturally such a milestone might be.
For the 49ers, who play in the most gay-friendly American city, this is a big deal, one that takes on even more relevance given the report earlier this week of former 49ers offensive tackle Kwame Harris' domestic violence clash with a person described as an ex-boyfriend.
"It's surprising that in 2013 Chris Culliver would use his 15 minutes [of fame] to spread vitriol and hate," Harris, the 49ers' 2003 first-round pick, told NBC Bay Area. "I recognize that these are comments that he may come to regret and that he may come to see that gay people are not so different than straight people."
Harris played in San Francisco from 2003-2007, then played a season for the Raiders.
Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, known as an advocate for same-sex marriage rights, said he hopes to get a chance to talk with Culliver after the Super Bowl.
"I'd just say, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., you can't fight hate with hate, you've got to fight hate with love," Ayanbadejo said. "We can turn this into a positive thing, he can learn and grow from the situation. He had already said that, when he apologized."
Niners safety Donte Whitner also has spoken up for gay rights.
"Who knows? There could be somebody gay in our locker room right now, who's scared to come out, which he has a right to be, if he is scared to come out, because of all of this, and how the teammates might feel," Whitner said.
Whitner was among several players Thursday who said he has family members who are gay - including Culliver.
"If you can accept a family member being gay, you can accept anybody," Whitner said.
Whitner said he doesn't think we are at a point in our society where a player leaving high school could afford to come out, then play college and NFL football without incident.
"I don't think that bridge has been built yet," Whitner said.
Whitner said he blamed Culliver's comments on his youth. He said he talked with Culliver about how to handle Thursday's questions. "Meet it head on, and if you get the same question over and over, don't get frustrated," Whitner said he told Culliver.
The other 49ers safety, Dashon Goldson, had a similar take on Culliver. Goldson said Harris "was a great guy" whom teammates did not know was gay when he played for them.
San Francisco running back Frank Gore said he knew Harris well, met him even before they were teammates, when Gore played with Kwame's brother Orien in college at Miami. Gore said he never knew Kwame was gay, wouldn't have cared if he had known.
"He blocked for me when I gained almost 1,700 yards [in 2006]. Don't make a difference to me," Gore said.
Of Culliver, Gore said: "He didn't mean it."
Ayanbadejo said: "I see guys coming around slowly. They go, 'Oh, B.A.'s around, we can't say this or say that,' so I think eventually it's going to [transfer] to when they're out and doing other things.
"Is it a hard burden [being the moral scold on gay rights]? No, it's just doing what's right. There's times when I used to say those words as well," Ayanbadejo said. "If I can stop saying those words, and learn that those words really hurt people, [teach other players] that it's like a white person saying the 'N' word, then they start to understand a little bit."
Ayanbadejo said he played against Harris several times over the years, never heard anything about him being gay until this week.
"You never know," Ayanbadejo said. "You don't need to know, unless that person wants to tell you, really."
Could an NFL player come out while still in the league, in 2013?
"I don't know," Ayanbadejo said. "Right now, with the mindset of people, if you want to play football and you want to play as long as you can, it's really not safe right now. I'm ready. [Vikings punter Chris] Kluwe is ready. [Browns linebacker Scott] Fujita's ready. Some organizations have said they don't approve of discrimination. I know the Ravens organization would accept a [gay] player if they were a great player and a great person. The 49ers would, as well. A lot of players and a lot of people are ready, but if you want to play - until people's mindsets really change, and there's a swift overhaul of the way a majority of people think, then it's not worth it."
On Twitter: @LesBowen