Saturday, February 02, 2013

What a Man!

In April 2011 I started highlighting well-known straight men who, regardless of the risks to their careers or popularity, have courageously chosen to take very public stands for LGBT people and their civil rights. To date, The Wild Reed's "What a Man!" series has spotlighted five sportsmen (Ben Cohen, Sean Avery, Hudson Taylor, Nick Youngquest, Chris Kluwe) and one U.S. Republican politician (John Kriesel).

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 (, 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


Anonymous said...

Hi Michael, we really enjoy your blog. Can you please let us know what your parents' and brothers' views are about your efforts to live your life with integrity according to your sexual orientation and your faith? Are they supportive? As your siblings, how do your two brothers project themselves as 'masculine' men in today's world - with sensitivity and understanding or otherwise?

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi, Anonymous,

My parents, brothers, sisters-in-law, and all my nephews and nieces fully support me in my efforts to live my life with integrity.

You can read responses from my parents here and here, and in the comments section of this post.

As to the ways by which my brothers express their masculinity, I would say that, like so many men I admire and respect, both gay and straight, they do so by being strong, compassionate, and emotionally mature spouses and fathers. They embody what boxer Paul Briggs describes as "a fresh take on masculinity."



Anonymous said...

I am interested to know how your two straight brothers manage to display strength, compassion and emotional maturity towards others (outside their family)in their daily lives? I believe there is something for us all to learn here.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Anonymous,

From my observations of my brothers and other adult males I admire and respect, I would say that they show compassion by striving to treat people with respect and kindness, and by seeking to understand where they are coming from without judging them.

I see them displaying strength in their making of good choices in the face of difficult decisions even when an alternative choice may have been more convenient for themselves and/or popular with others.

Finally, I see emotional maturity in the level of awareness and understanding they have of their own feelings and motivations, a level that prevents them from unknowingly projecting these feelings and motivations onto others when interacting with them and/or making choices about matters that may involve them.