San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver has run out of excuses like a Tesla out of charge.

After his arrest Friday in San Jose on suspicion of felony hit-and-run and carrying brass knuckles, not even his publicists can save him. They may not want to.

I'd be surprised if Culliver stays with the 49ers. He's neither good enough a player nor sympathetic enough a human being to be forgiven his latest escapade. But because he came to our attention in an unusual way -- his anti-gay phobia -- it's worth holding up his story as a mirror for the rest of us.

Let me suggest there are four lessons, or maybe three lessons and a question, that we can draw out of the sorry affair that began with a bicyclist struck at Seventh Street and Tully Road. Most of them deal with the piercing of our own assumptions.

San Francisco 49ers defensive back Chris Culliver was arrested on March 28, 2014 on felony hit-and-run and weapons charges.
San Francisco 49ers defensive back Chris Culliver was arrested on March 28, 2014 on felony hit-and-run and weapons charges. (San Jose Police Department)

A) Don't be surprised that a quotient of fools continues to inhabit pro sports. We pay young football players millions to engage in organized mayhem, cheering when they shade a receiver without drawing a penalty. Yes, we hope they understand the difference between reality and a game. But even for a second-rate player, the sudden shower of money creates an aura of invincibility -- and sometimes, brass knuckles follow.

B) Be wary of the redemptive story. The whole reason Chris Culliver is big news is he made a homophobic remark before last year's Super Bowl against the Baltimore Ravens. After that, his publicists had him apologize to gay groups and promote his work opposing dog fighting. Nothing has more power than the story of a reformed sinner. We all want to believe the bigot has seen the light. But the truth is it's often done to preserve a career. We should hold the ovation until a few years go by.


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C) The quality of the player matters. To savvy fans, this will come as a "duh'' moment. It's still worth pointing out that Culliver, a third-round draft pick who sat out last year with a severe knee injury, is not star linebacker Aldon Smith, who was released from jail expeditiously by Sheriff Laurie Smith's department after a DUI arrest and later invited to her fundraising picnic. It's not that the justice system will necessarily go easier on Smith than Culliver. But a star gets more vocal defense, more chances at reform, more support from fans. It's harder for a team to give him a pink slip.

D) The witness should not be forgotten. This falls in the "question'' category. San Jose police say a Mustang driven by Culliver struck a bicyclist, who was not injured seriously. Then the Mustang, which had dealer's plates, scraped a witness's vehicle. The witness reportedly followed and cornered Culliver on a nearby street, where the football player was arrested.

Police say they want people to be good witnesses, to follow carefully if they have to, and not to get involved in captures. The witness here arguably went beyond that. And yet, if cops are right, he helped unmask a troubled player and driver.

While you can understand the victim's anger, I worry about the next guy who tries to follow a hit-and-run driver. The brass knuckles may not stay unused.

Contact Scott Herhold at 408-275-0917 or sherhold@mercurynews.com. Twitter.com/scottherhold.