Making the Right Play: Ravens’ Brendon Ayanbadejo Joins Athletes Taking a Stand on Marriage Equality
This season has been a breakthrough one for athletes standing up for gay rights. Power forward Kenneth Faried of the NBA's Denver Nuggets released a video in support of marriage equality in Colorado that included his two seemingly camera-shy moms. Faried tells the story of his family and how they have stood by each other in sickness and in health. While he had to miss their wedding due to playing basketball in college, he is proud that they were finally able to tie the knot.
"I really do support civil union, because it gives people—gays and lesbians—the right to make decisions on their own," he said. "[Decisions like] if they want to get married and let them choose who they want to be with"
Some NFL players also stepped up this season as well, but it has been Brian Ayanbadejo of the Baltimore Ravens who is drawing the most attention since he is plans on using his participation in the Super Bowl to further the cause of gay rights. The Ravens player hadn't even gone to sleep after the team's American Football Conference championship game victory before he sent emails to leading advocates, brainstorming on ways to use the immense Super Bowl media platform to promote a message of LGBT equality as a straight ally.
One of the advocates that Ayanbadejo reached out to was Hudson Taylor, the founder and executive director of Athlete Ally, who started his anti-homophobia organization shortly after wrapping up his career as an all-American National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I wrestler.
“For every athlete ally like Brendon or Kenneth that speaks out, another member of the athletic community can feel comfortable coming out,” Taylor said. “Sport has come into all of our lives. Whether we are currently die-hard sports fans or still consider ourselves athletes or have kids competing, it definitely pushes the conversation forward on marriage equality.”
The San Francisco 49ers, also Super Bowl contenders, have recently had their own brush with the LGBT equality movement. However, it came in the form of cornerback Chris Culliver making anti-gay remarks during an interview. Culliver apologized Wednesday night for his statement, but the incident is reminiscent of other times gay rights and the NFL have mixed.
Ayanbadejo and Chris Kluwe of the Minnesota Vikings grabbed headlines and peaked national attention earlier this season when a Maryland state legislator encouraged the Ravens’ owner to silence Ayanbadejo for speaking out in favor of marriage equality. Kluwe emphatically defended Ayanbadejo, receiving widespread praise for his open-letter that elegantly outlined the stakes of the debate:
They won't even overthrow the government ... because all of a sudden they have the same legal rights as the other 90 percent of our population—rights like Social Security benefits, child care tax credits, Family and Medical Leave to take care of loved ones, and COBRA healthcare for spouses and children. You know what having these rights will make gays? Full-fledged American citizens just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that entails.
Taylor, of Athlete Ally, said that it is one thing for the average citizen to stand up for equality, but it is different when an athlete does it.
"I think athletes have a certain amount of cultural capital that most members of the public don’t,” Taylor told Campus Progress. “When athletes step up as allies, it makes the general public more supportive and aware.”
Athletes are not exactly known for taking courageous stands on the hot-button social issues of their time. There have been few exceptions. Certain images and words stay with us like the black gloved fists of Tommie Smith and John Carlos that were thrust in the air at the 1968 Olympics as a symbol of black power. Bill Walton, the NCAA and NBA basketball champion, took a firm stance against the war in Vietnam. Muhammad Ali also stands out for his opposition of the Vietnam War and support of civil rights It was Ali who famously said: “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?"
However, in the the many years that professional sports have been played the instances of activism like these are few and far between, making the actions of Ayanbadejo, Kluwe and Faried more meaningful. “It’s one of those times when you’re really passionate and in your zone,” Ayanbadejo told the New York Times. “And I got to thinking about all kinds of things, and I thought: How can we get our message out there?”
Those who want to stand and help spread messages of equality can sign the Athlete Ally pledge.
Marc Peters is a reporter at Campus Progress.You can follow Marc on Twitter at @rippleofhope.