Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo has been one of the few NFL players to be outspoken in support of same-sex marriage. He wrote an article about it in the Huffington Post in 2009 and has lent his name and face to videos promoting marriage equality in Maryland. “Same-sex marriage isn’t a ‘gay’ issue, it’s an ‘equality’ issue,” he said.
Recently, Ayanbadejo, 36, donated a pair of Ravens tickets as part of a fundraiser for Marylanders for Marriage Equality. This did not sit well with Del. Emmett C. Burns, Jr., a Democrat from Baltimore County, who has been a forceful opponent of LGBT rights in general and same-sex marriage in particular.
In a letter dated Aug. 29 sent to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti that was shared with the media, Burns wrote, “Many of my constituents and your football supporters are appalled and aghast that a member of the Ravens Football Team would step into this controversial divide and try to sway public opinion one way or the other.” Burns advised Bisciotti that Ayanbadejo concentrate on football and not divide the fan base.
Ayanbadejo was taken aback when hearing of the letter. “I was surprised. Just what our country was founded on, for someone to try to take that away from me, I was pretty surprised that something like that would come up, especially from a politician,” he told the Baltimore Sun.
He indicated that members of the Ravens organization, including team president Dick Cass, offered words of support at the Under Armour Performance Center, the Ravens practice facility in Owings Mills, and a few gave him high-fives, according to the Sun. Regarding Cass, Ayanbadejo stated, “[He said] we’re in support of you and it’s good that you’re able to voice your opinion and say how you feel. Dick personally told me, ‘We’re not an organization that discriminates.’”
This dust-up with Burns brought Ayanbadejo support from other players in the National Football League. NFL Players Association president Domonique Foxworth characterized Burns’ letter as “asinine.”
“I don’t think football players are different from any other human beings, with the exception of having a larger platform,” said Foxworth, who played for the Ravens from 2009 to 2011. “I think that’s all the reason to speak out. Whether people agree with what you’re saying or not, it’s your right to say it. I don’t think any social issues have been solved by silencing one group.”
In addition, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley and Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe were among those who backed Ayanbadejo. Kluwe, in particular, was vocal about his support. Appearing on MSNBC’s “The Ed Show” on Sept. 7 and interviewed by other media, Kluwe, who has been a strong opponent of Minnesota’s constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage that will appear on November’s ballot, spoke out for marriage equality and Ayanbadejo’s right to support it.
He also penned a scathing, profanity-laced letter to Burns that was made public. Among the milder passages Kluwe wrote, “By using your position as an elected official (when referring to your constituents so as to implicitly threaten the Ravens organization) to state that the Ravens should ‘inhibit such expressions from your employees,’ more specifically Brendon Ayanbadejo, not only are you clearly violating the First Amendment, you also come across as a narcissistic fromunda stain. What on earth would possess you to be so mind-boggingly stupid?”