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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Monday, October 05, 2009

Making the Big Play

Baltimore Raven Brendon Ayanbadejo’s support for marriage equality is no small matter.

By Steve Charing

As linebackers in the National Football League go, Brendon Ayanbadejo of the Baltimore Ravens is relatively small. At 6-1, 228 lbs. he is often outsized by his peers. But his heart is big. and he knows how to compete.
Besides being a solid and speedy linebacker, # 51 is also a fixture on the Ravens’ special teams, covering and blocking during kickoffs. His overall defensive prowess in Week 3 of the current NFL season earned the 33 year-old UCLA alum AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. Unfortunately, in Week 4 he sustained a season-ending injury.

While he may be considered small by NFL standards, Brendon Ayanbadejo has left a large footprint on lgbt equality. Back in April, Ayanbadejo wrote a 364-word blog on the widely read Huffington Post titled, "Same Sex Marriages: What’s the Big Deal?"

He starts right off by debunking the argument that the opposition to same-sex marriage should be based on religion. "Church and state are supposed to be completely separated when it comes to the rule of law in the United States," he wrote. "So the religious argument that God meant for only man and woman to be together has no bearing here!" As a punctuation mark to this thought, Ayanbadejo added, "We are a secular capitalistic democracy. That's it."

He justified Barack Obama’s lack of support for same-sex marriage by stating, "It seems that Obama felt the need to embrace Christianity more to fit in."

Ayanbadejo chided the stunt pulled off by Britney Spears as an indication of how many heterosexual couples have hurt the institution of marriage. "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."

He concluded his blog post with a reflection on the civil rights movement. "Maybe I am a man ahead of my time. However, looking at the former restrictions on human rights in our country starting with slavery, women not being able to vote, blacks being counted as two thirds of a human, segregation, no gays in the military (to list a few) all have gone by the wayside. But now here in 2009 same sex marriages are prohibited. I think we will look back in 10, 20, 30 years and be amazed that gays and lesbians did not have the same rights as everyone else. How did this ever happen in the land of the free and the home of the brave? Are we really free?"

And this much-appreciated support for lgbt equality by Brendon Ayanbadejo did not stop at the Huffington Post. Last month, he appeared with his girlfriend at the new offices of Equality Maryland—right across the street from M&T Bank Stadium—to offer more encouragement during the organization’s welcome reception.

How important is it for a professional football player to stand behind marriage equality? Very. And perhaps it can help open closet doors for some athletes down the road.

Esera Tuaolo was one of three gay NFLers to come out of the closet—after hanging up their pads. All felt they would have been hated by teammates had they chose to disclose their sexual orientation during their playing days. No active professional male athlete has yet to come out.

The main concern for gay athletes appears to be the locker room culture and the potential risks stemming from that culture. There have certainly been a number of anti-gay slurs spewed by athletes of several sports to create an environment where the closet remains shut.

But Brendon Ayanbadejo’s public stance on marriage equality may have opened the door—however slightly—for a gay male athlete to one day feel comfortable enough to extricate himself from the tight closet and be who he really is.

I was hoping to interview Ayanbadejo to see if the climate has improved enough for a gay athlete—football player or not—to come out. If such a player existed on the Ravens, would Ayanbadejo be an enthusiastic supporter of his teammate? Would he stand alone or would his teammates rally behind the player? Or is it best that the player remain in the closet?

But the Ravens PR manager would not allow me to contact Brendon so these questions remain unanswered.

Regardless, Brendon Ayanbadejo plays big on the gridiron, as he has been selected to the Pro Bowl three years in a row. And he plays big off the field. This is an ally we need if we, as a community, are to reach the equality goal line.

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