Tuesday, February 05, 2013

This City is for the Birds

LGBT Ally Brendon Ayanbadejo celebrates after win
Wow! What an amazing run to the Super Bowl trophy!  I still see purple all over my clothes, my food, and my towels.  With the heart-pounding finish to the record-breaking game in which the Ravens outlasted the San Francisco 49ers, 34-31, the impromptu celebrations and the fabulous parade, Baltimore fans from all walks of life came together as one.  It seems like only wars and sport championships can unite otherwise disparate people.  And this was no exception.
This town goes crazy for the Ravens—as it should.  Sure, there are plenty of Ravens-hating Steelers fans here, and Sunday’s game was their worst nightmare.  And for certain, it seemed like most of the country were hoping the Ravens would fail.  Much of this was caused by the never-ending saga and drama of Ray Lewis’ retirement and how the future Hall of Famer is perceived beyond the Beltway.   

But rallying behind a sports team and willing it to the ultimate prize temporarily puts significant everyday problems on the back burner.  It’s great for the psyche as well as the spirit.  As one, most of us greeted each other with “Go Ravens!”
This victory should have surprised no one given that when states pass marriage equality, their football team immediately wins a Super Bowl: Massachusetts and the Patriots, New York and the Giants, and now Maryland and the Ravens.

The run for the Ravens’ title that included spectacular victories over the Colts, Broncos and Patriots also had an LGBT undercurrent, which is most unusual for major sports championships.  One of our allies in the fight for marriage equality in Maryland was Ravens’ linebacker and special teams guy Brendon Ayanbadejo.  He told the New York Times, Athlete Ally and others that he intended to use the weeklong run-up to the game as a platform to advance marriage equality and to decry bullying.
He may have though I didn’t see any of that covered locally.  After all, how can Baltimore’s news outlets squeeze in important social issues when they are obsessed with Ray Lewis and the Harbaugh brothers?   

But Ayanbadejo did react to 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver’s homophobic comments that were in response to a hypothetical question regarding the acceptance of a gay player in the team’s locker room.  On media day, Culliver told a radio station, “We don’t got no gay people on the team. They gotta get up out of here if they do.” 
He later apologized through the team. “I was really not thinking,” Culliver told reporters at the 49ers’ media session. “Or, something I thought, but not something that I feel in my heart. I’m not trying to bring any distraction to the team.”  Something he thought but not something in his heart?  Hmm.

For his part, 49er coach Jim Harbaugh said the team did not agree with Culliver’s earlier comments.  “We reject what he said. That’s not something that reflects the way the organization feels, the way most of the players feel. . . . I think it’s going to impact him going forward. I think it’s something that he will learn about himself.”

Interestingly, his brother John who is the Ravens’ head coach never, to my knowledge, publicly embraced the idea of a gay player possibly being on the Ravens.  But San Francisco is a different market with stronger LGBT activism making the 49er coach’s response pragmatic.

Ayanbadejo commented, “I’d say 50% of the people think like Culliver.  I’d say 25% of the people think like me. And then 25% of the people are religious. They don’t necessarily agree with all the things I agree with, but they’re accepting. So it’s a fight. It’s an uphill battle.”

He added, “No matter who you are or what you do, if you’re doing something that you love, you should be able to do that. You should be able to express who you are. Then you do things that you love to do (and) you’ll be better at them instead of always worrying about hiding who you are.”  San Francisco wide receiver Randy Moss backed Ayanbadejo’s points.
Kudos to Ayanbadejo for taking on this fight.  A few years ago, it would have been unthinkable for an active professional male athlete to advocate for LGBT equality.

As the confetti and hoopla dissipate in the afterglow of the Ravens’ improbable achievement, Baltimore’s love affair with birds will gravitate towards our adored Orioles.  Last year’s Cinderella team is poised to make another run for the American League East title and beyond.  We don’t have an equivalent to Ayanbadejo on the O’s yet, but several players made a video for the “It Gets Better Campaign” a couple of years ago, and that’s a promising sign.

While professional basketball, football and hockey had made strides to alleviate concerns over a gay player in their midst, baseball has lagged behind.  However, many teams have “Nights Out” events as part of their schedules whereby LGBT groups can sit together at the game, be publicly recognized and perhaps take part in the pre-game ceremonies.
Washington D.C. is among several major league cities to hold these events.   Given how Maryland passed marriage equality at the ballot box, and that owner Peter Angelos contributed significantly to the cause, it is high time that Baltimore began holding a Night Out at Camden Yards.  We need to persuade the O’s management to plan that for our community, who love those Birds as much as we do the Ravens.

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