Let me start out by admitting that I don’t know much of anything about sports. I only get interested in the topic every four years during the summer Olympics when I’m a big fan of men’s and women’s swimming, diving, and gymnastics—and that’s it.
So I’d never heard of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo until I read an article about him in Saturday’s New York Times. But he’s my new hero and here’s why.
Ayanbadejo, who has two children with his longtime girlfriend, has been speaking out in support of same-sex marriage since 2009. His message got a little more attention recently when a Maryland legislator told Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti that Ayanbadejo should essentially be instructed to keep his opinions to himself.
Those opinions evolved out of a childhood where Ayanbadejo knew what it was like to be different. His father is Nigerian and his mother is Irish-American. The Times explains that, when Ayanbadejo was 10, his family moved to Santa Cruz, California. During high school “he befriended many openly gay students. He had been accepted as a biracial boy from a Chicago housing project, so he accepted everyone else’s differences, too.”
Frustrated that Barack Obama did not openly support same-sex marriage during the 2008 presidential race, Ayanbadejo wrote a blog post published by The Huffington Post in 2009 titled, “Same Sex Marriages: What’s the Big Deal?”
If you’re asking yourself the same question, the big deal is that same-sex marriage and gay issues were not, until very recently, topics that came up much among professional athletes. The Times notes that back when Ayanbadejo first started to speak out, “In the Ravens’ locker room, players made crude remarks and asked him when he would reveal his homosexuality.”
Yet when ex-NFL cornerback Wade Davis came out in June, The Root reported that former Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George said, “I just don’t care about that . . . If that’s what you do, that’s what you do. I don’t hate you because of it or dislike you because of it. That’s not my personal preference, but I respect your decision. I’m not going to like you less or not be your friend because of that.”
Other players are starting to speak out more forcefully. NBC Sports reported this past weekend that, “with Minnesota voters weighing whether to ban gay marriage this fall, Vikings punter Chris Kluwe has emerged as a high-profile gay rights champion—and a symbol of changing attitudes toward homosexuality in the sports world.”
“Kluwe got a massive new audience for his views after he penned a blistering open letter to a Maryland state lawmaker who criticized another NFL player, Brendon Ayanbadejo of the Baltimore Ravens, for supporting gay marriage with the issue also on Maryland’s ballot. ‘Why do you hate the fact that other people want a chance to live their lives and be happy, even though they may believe in something different than you or act different than you?’ Kluwe wrote to Delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr.”
After Kluwe’s letter came out, The Times notes that Ayanbadejo received widespread support for his views and he said, “A bunch of my teammates were men about it, and they had real, honest conversations with me . . . That had never happened before.”
In other words, we now know that real men can play football and support same-sex marriage. And there’s more good news: I’ve learned a lot of new terms—like linebacker, cornerback, and running back.
Do you think the world of professional sports is becoming more tolerant of gay issues, or is the support of guys like Ayanbadejo and Kluwe the exception?
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Lawrence Karol is a writer and editor who lives with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet staffer and enjoys writing about design, food, travel and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence | TakePart.com