What’s the first thing a superstar NFL linebacker does hours after a win that will send his team to the Super Bowl? If you’re Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, you’re trying to figure out a way to use the inevitable media coverage that comes with the Super Bowl to draw attention to the causes you support: marriage equality.
Hours after he arrived back home in Baltimore after his team’s win, he sent a 3:40 a.m. email to Brian Ellner, a leading marriage equality advocate, and Michael Skolnik, a hip-hop mogul who is involved with support of marriage equality.
“Is there anything I can do for marriage equality or anti-bullying over the next couple of weeks to harness this Super Bowl media?” (New York Times)
His dream, after winning a Super Bowl ring, is to be a guest on Ellen DeGeneres’s talk show. They have exchanged Tweets and he wants to discuss with her the importance of fighting for the rights of the gay community and what he can do to further the cause.
“That’s my ultimate goal after the Super Bowl,” Ayanbadejo told me [writer, Frank Bruni]. “To go on Ellen’s show, to be dancing with her, to bust a move with her.”
Elolner feels that Ayanbadejo is in a unique position:
“He understands that as a straight biracial player in the Super Bowl, he can have a huge impact on the future of this issue.”
Speaking with The New York Times’ Frank Bruni, Ayanbadejo explained:
“It’s one of those times when you’re really passionate and in your zone.” Ayanbadejo referred to the correspondence with Skolnik and Ellner as his ‘Jerry Maguire email,’ in reference to the Tom Cruise character who stayed up all night to develop a life-changing mission statement. “And I got to thinking about all kinds of things, and I thought: how can we get our message out there?”
The LGBT community’s advocate in the form of 10-year pro football player Brendon Ayanbadejo wasn’t an accident. His support for gay rights and marriage equality stems from his childhood and youth. His stepfather was the resident director at an LGBT dormitory at the University of California at Santa Cruz. The entire family lived at the dormitory and Ayanbadejo grew up surrounded by diversity that included all races of people and the LGBT community.
“I was raised around gay people in a very liberal society. Discrimination was never allowed.” (New York Times)
Standing up for marriage equality and gay rights isn’t new to Ayanbadejo, but his support drew national attention when he spoke out about the same-sex marriage debate in Maryland last year. He publicly endorsed marriage equality and was shocked when Maryland legislator C. Emmett Burns Jr. wrote a letter asking Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti to silence him on the issue.
Bisciotti and Ravens President, Dick Cass, completely rejected Burns’ letter and Bisciotti said to Ayanbadejo:
“Keep doing your thing. We believe in you. This is not a team that believes in discrimination in any way, shape, or form. You have this tremendous platform here. Use it. And go ahead and continue to be you, and grow and shape and change the world while you have the ability to do it.’ (Huffington Post)
This drew the attention and support of Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, who himself proceeded to take up the cause of marriage equality by famously writing Burns a letter of his own.
In the ESPN article, “Can the NFL Accept Gay Players,” Ayanbadejo said:
“Gay and lesbian couples want to marry for similar reasons as we all do: love and commitment. It’s time to allow them the opportunity to build a family though marriage. It’s a matter of fairness.”
Ayanbadejo is doing everything he can to seize this unique opportunity to fight for his cause. He’s talking to gay rights activists that include Hudson Taylor, founder and executive director of Athlete Ally, a group that is dedicated to eliminating homophobia from all levels of sports.
“He’s so excited and ready to take a stand in whatever way he can,” said Taylor. “He is leveraging the biggest sports stage in the world.”
It’s not just about supporting gay rights, Ayanbadejo explains. It’s about human rights.
“My dad is Nigerian. My mom is Irish-American. So I kind of never really fit in. From the black community, I was considered white. From the white community, I was considered black. And then from my own Nigerian community, I wasn’t considered Nigerian. I was considered a black American. I kind of never fit in, kind of had to find my own niche and find my own way. So I’ve experienced discrimination at a young age, and it’s made me the person who I am today.
Whether it was women’s rights or interracial marriage or civil rights, whatever it was, it’s all led to where we are today,” he continued. “And now it’s gay rights. And it’s all the same issue even though they’re all different things. They’re all predicated on equality and treating people fairly. So I just see it from that standpoint. I see it a little bit broader than everybody else, but there’s always been someone that’s been discriminated against. And we’re just trying to tackle one issue at a time. Right now it’s the time for gay rights and it’s time for them to be treated equally and for everybody be treated fairly, in the name of love.” (Huffington Post)
Ayanbadejo cited Michael Jordan’s example of rejecting the opportunity to oppose a politician, Jesse Helms, who led the 1983 filibuster opposing the establishment of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Jordan pointed out that Republicans buy shoes too. Ayanbadejo has set his bar a little higher than that.
“I’m not really trying to sell a pair of shoes, I’m just trying to move things in a positive direction,” he said. (ESPN)
As he said on his Facebook page, it’s part of the job.
I am an unapologetic member of the Christian Left, and have spent a lot of time working with “the least of these” and disadvantaged and oppressed populations. I’m passionate about their struggles. To stay on top of topics I discuss, subscribe to my public updates on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or connect with me via LinkedIn. I also have a grossly neglected blog. Find me somewhere and let’s discuss stuff.