Ahead of the 47th Super Bowl on Sunday, a jock has capitalized on his moment in the spotlight to continue his campaign of support for gay rights, risking his reputation among an often homophobic crowd.
In October, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo endorsed same-sex marriage in an ad aired by Marylanders for Marriage Equality.
“I believe that we should be doing everything that we can to make Maryland families stronger,” Ayanbadejo said in the ad, “which is why I support marriage for gay and lesbian couples who want to make a lifetime commitment to each other. People from all walks of life, including gay and lesbian couples, want their children to be in stable homes and protected under the law.”
Such support has drawn the ire of opponents of gay marriage. In a letter addressed to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti dated Aug. 29, Maryland Democratic politician and bigoted extrovert Emmert C. Burns Jr. wrote: “I find it inconceivable that one of your players, Mr. Brendon Ayanbadejo, would publicly endorse Same-Sex marriage, specifically as a Ravens football player.
“Many of my constituents and your football supporters are appalled and aghast that a member of the Ravens Football Team would step into this controversial divide,” Burns continued, “and try to sway public opinion one way or another.” He then asked Bisciotti to silence Ayanbadejo. “I am requesting that you take the necessary action, as a National Football League Owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employees and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions.”
Burns did not appear to be aware of Ayanbadejo’s earlier expressions in support of gay marriage. In a column that appeared on The Huffington Post in early 2009, the linebacker wrote:
“If Britney Spears can party it up in Vegas with one of her boys and go get married on a whim and annul her marriage the next day, why can’t a loving same sex couple tie the knot? How could our society grant more rights to a heterosexual one night stand wedding in Vegas than a gay couple that has been together for 3, 5, 10 years of true love? The divorce rate in America is currently 50%. I am willing to bet that same sex marriages have a higher success rate than heterosexual marriages.”
Lately, Ayanbadejo has challenged the anti-gay expressions of fellow NFL players, including those he’ll compete against in the Super Bowl on Sunday. This week, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver said in an interview that gays were not welcome in his locker room. “No. Ain’t got no gay people on the team. They gotta get up outta here if they do,” Culliver said. “Can’t be with that sweet stuff.”
Both the 49ers and Culliver released statements of apology and regret shortly afterward. The team condemned the player’s comments and Culliver said he was “really just not thinking.” The remarks conflicted directly with the team’s participation in the anti-gay bullying campaign “It Gets Better” last fall.
Ayanbadejo easily seized on Culliver’s comments to offer further, indirect support for gay rights:
“You know, I think that in San Francisco, and being from the Bay Area myself, that’s something that we really try to preach—love and acceptance of everybody. And so I couldn’t really even say anything negative to the young man. It’s just one of those things where you have to live and you have to learn. And I said earlier on (a TV broadcast)—in the words of Martin Luther King, you can’t fight hate with hate. You have to fight hate with love. We’ve all made our mistakes, we’ve all been there and done certain things, and we’ve hurt people regardless if we meant to do it or not. But more than anything it’s an opportunity to have a learning experience.
“I’ve preached since day one to my teammates that there’s certain words you can’t say,” Ayanbadejo continued. “And when they’re around me they know—if B.A.’s around, you can’t say ‘gay’ in a derogatory manner, you can’t say the three-letter ‘f’ word. And I tell them, I go, you can’t say those things. And if people hear you say those things, regardless if you mean them or not, they’re going to fry you. And if it’s in a public arena your whole reputation’s going to be roasted for it.
“So we’ve kind of seen it happen this time,” he said. “So we just have to all learn from what happened, from this mistake. He apologized and hopefully he’ll learn. And he’s in the Bay Area, and it’s really important there, it’s pertinent there. So I think he’s going to learn and he’s going to grow to be a better person for it.”
For saying the right thing, we honor Brendon Ayanbadejo as our Truthdigger of the Week.