Tonight the spotlight's on Baltimore Ravens Linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, who hopes to use tomorrow's Super Bowl as a platform for his and others' support for marriage equality.
New York Times columnist Frank Bruni is one of a number of people who have written about Ayanbadejo's support for civil marriage rights for same-sex couples. Following is an excerpt from his January 22, 2013 column, "Carrying a Cause to the Super Bowl."
Ayanbadejo’s support for gay rights reflects a childhood and youth during which he mingled with a diverse group of people, including many who were openly gay or lesbian. At one point, he told me, his stepfather was the resident director of an LGBT dorm at the University of California at Santa Cruz; the family, including Ayanbadejo, lived there.
“I was raised around gay people in a very liberal society,” he told me during an interview in September, when I first spoke with him. “Discrimination was never allowed.”
Ayanbadejo, who has been playing professional football for a decade, first publicly voiced his support for marriage equality several years ago, and says it was a much lonelier stand at the time. He drew insults. Derision.
But that wasn’t the case last year, when he landed in the news again. The legalization of same-sex marriage was being debated in Maryland, and Ayanbadejo made his endorsement clear, prompting a state lawmaker in the opposite camp to ask the owner of the Ravens to shut Ayanbadejo up.
[Chris] Kluwe then rallied to Ayanbadejo’s defense, also taking up the cause of marriage equality, and the two became the center of widespread media coverage. This time around, the linebacker said, what he heard back from the public and from teammates was mostly laudatory, or at least respectful.
On the phone Tuesday he made clear that not all his teammates support same-sex marriage. Some have religious objections. He said that discussions about their differences of opinion had an unlikely trigger: chicken sandwiches. On one or two occasions, he said, he turned down food from the chain Chick-fil-A, whose owner is a social conservative against gay marriage.
“I’ll say, ‘I’m protesting’,” Ayanbadejo recalled. “No Chick-fil-A for me.” And a few of his teammates, he said, would respond by saying that they actually agreed with the chicken chain’s owner.
Throughout his week, Ayanbadejo has been – and will be – talking to gay-rights advocates about how to seize this moment. For example, he’s been swapping emails with Hudson Taylor, the founder and executive director of Athlete Ally, a group dedicated to ridding sports at all levels – high school, college, professional — of homophobia.
“He’s so excited and ready to take a stand in whatever way he can,” said Taylor. “He is leveraging the biggest sports stage in the world.”
He’s also in conversations with [marriage equality supporters] [Brian] Ellner and [Michael] Skolnik. . . . Said Ellner: “He understands that as a straight biracial player in the Super Bowl, he can have a huge impact on the future of this issue.”
And he’s dreaming a particular dream: that a Super Bowl victory and a Super Bowl ring would land him a guest spot on Ellen DeGeneres’s talk show, where the two of them could discuss the importance of treating gays and lesbians with more respect – and maybe kid around some, too. They’ve already exchanged mutually admiring messages over Twitter.
“That’s my ultimate goal after the Super Bowl,” Ayanbadejo told me. “To go on Ellen’s show, to be dancing with her, to bust a move with her.”
It’s not precisely what you’d expect from a linebacker on one of the most fearsome defensive squads in professional football. But then this isn’t the world we grew up in, and in some ways that’s a miraculous and wonderful thing.
To read Frank Bruni's column on Ayanbadejo in its entirety, click here.
Related Off-site Links:
"It's a New World": The Super Bowl Becomes a Platform for LGBT Equality – Dave Zirin (The Nation, January 25, 2013).
Ravens' Brendon Ayanbadejo Awaits Son's Heart Surgery, Advocates for Gay Marriage Rights – Michael Silver (Yahoo! Sports, January 29, 2013).
Brendon Ayanbadejo, Baltimore Ravens Linebacker, Plans To Use Super Bowl for Gay Marriage, Anti-Bullying Platform – Glennisha Morgan (The Huffington Post, January 24, 2013).
NFL Gay-Rights Backers Like Brendon Ayanbadejo Await 'Jackie Robinson' Pioneer – Paul Newberry (The Huffington Post, February 1, 2013).
This Given Sunday: It's Time for a Gay NFL Player to Step Up – Saeed Jones (BuzzFeed.com, February 1, 2013).
Brendon Ayanbadejo: 50% of NFL Players Share Chris Culliver’s Homophobic Views – Corinne Pinfold (Pink News, February 1, 2013).
Brendon Ayanbadejo's Gay Marriage Support Angers Maryland Delegate – Chris Littmann (Sporting News, September 7, 2012).
Brendon Ayanbadejo Responds to Delegate on Gay Marriage – Robert Klemko (USA Today, September 2, 2012).
Football: America's Gayest Pastime – Mark Brennan Rosenberg (The Huffington Post, February 2, 2013).
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
• What a Man! – Ben Cohen
• What a Man! – Sean Avery
• What a Man! – Hudson Taylor
• What a Man! – John Kriesel
• What a Man! – Nick Youngquest
• What a Man! – Chris Kluwe
• Quote of the Day – September 27, 2012
• Chris Kluwe on His Support for Marriage Equality: "It's All About the Golden Rule"
• Rockin' With Maxwell
• Ian Thorpe's "Difficult Decision"
• The New Superman: Not Necessarily Gay, but Definitely Queer
• A Fresh Take on Masculinity