Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo hopes to use the media attention surrounding his team’s appearance in the Super Bowl to further highlight his support of marriage rights for same-sex couples.
New York Times columnist Frank Bruni reported on Jan. 22 that Ayanbadejo sent an e-mail to same-sex marriage advocates Brian Ellner and Michael Skolnik hours after the Ravens clinched the AFC Championship by defeating the New England Patriots. Bruni said the linebacker asked them whether there is “anything I can do for marriage equality or anti-bullying over the next couple of weeks to harness this Super Bowl media?”
Ayanbadejo described his message to Ellner and Skolnik during a follow-up interview with Bruni as his “Jerry Maguire e-mail.” He said his “ultimate goal” after the Super Bowl that will take place in New Orleans on Feb. 5 was to “get our message out there,” including an appearance on comedian Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show.
Ayanbadejo, who has backed marriage rights for same-sex couples for several years, in late 2011 emerged as one of Maryland’s most high-profile supporters of the issue after he appeared in a Marylanders for Marriage Equality web video.
He headlined subsequent fundraisers with Gov. Martin O’Malley and others in support of the campaign that backed the same-sex marriage law the governor signed last March. Ayanbadejo also joined O’Malley, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings at a polling place in Charm City hours before a referendum on the statute passed by a 52-48 percent margin on Election Day.
The linebacker’s advocacy around the issue has also sparked controversy among those who oppose nuptials for gays and lesbians.
State Del. Emmett Burns (D-Baltimore County) told Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti in an Aug. 29 letter after Ayanbadejo donated two Ravens tickets as part of a Marylanders for Marriage Equality fundraiser that he “should concentrate on football and steer clear of dividing the fan base.” Chris Kluwe of the Minnesota Vikings subsequently defended Ayanbadejo in a series of profanity-laced tweets that blasted Burns.
“Brendon is permitted to express his viewpoints,” Ravens spokesperson Patrick Gleason told the Washington Blade in response to Ayanbadejo’s latest comments on the issue. “The Ravens have always supported his right to free speech.”
Gleason said Ayanbadejo was unavailable for an interview before the team traveled to New Orleans on Monday.
Ellner declined to provide the Blade a copy of the e-mail he received from the linebacker.
“He understands that as a straight biracial player in the Super Bowl he can have a huge impact on the future of this issue,” Ellner said. “He has courage because this comes from a deeply held sense of basic fairness. He’s part of a new generation of athlete ally. He’s creating a playbook for this.”