The Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers face off on Sunday, and the extravaganza is likely to mark the end of a year to forget, rather than a celebration of athletic excellence. So it was fitting that the week running up to the New Orleans final, which many have tried to tout as a symbol of the rebirth of the city after the 2005 devastation of Hurricane Katrina, was marred by scandals.
Most dramatically came the blunt comments about gay footballers from 49ers' Chris Culliver. "We don't got no gay people on the team. You know, they gotta get up out of here if they do," he told an interviewer. Not surprisingly, his own team management, football officials, pundits and gay rights groups reacted with fury. "Culliver's comments were disrespectful, discriminatory and dangerous," said Hudson Taylor, director of Athlete Ally, a group which campaigns on the issue.
The result was a stunned-looking, almost tearful Culliver being hauled out in front of hundreds of reporters to publicly recant his words in a painful 45-minute long news conference.
But that was not even the strangest scandal to hit athletes involved in the Super Bowl last week. An article in Sports Illustrated detailed a company that aims to provide a long list of strange substances and pieces of equipment aimed at helping athletes perform at their best, including pills and sprays made from deer antlers. It was alleged that Ravens player Ray Lewis used the potions and it was pointed out that the antler extract was related to some types of banned drugs. Lewis, for his part, denied the allegations outright. But it was enough to kick off yet another storm of debate over the use of drugs by top US athletes.
Nor was the media immune to the waves of scandal breaking over what should be a showpiece moment. Footballing hero – and a current CBS employee – Dan Marino was exposed at the end of the week for fathering a child outside his marriage, shattering his good guy image. The network was forced to address the issue and confirm that Marino would still be taking part in its pre-game coverage as a pundit. "Dan has said all there is say on this matter," the network sniffed in a brief statement.
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