BALTIMORE RAVENS linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo recently recorded the most memorable sack of his long career — of a politician. Ayanbadejo has spoken out for gay marriage since 2009, and in the growing heat over Maryland’s November ballot question legalizing same-sex marriage, state Delegate Emmett Burns, who opposes legalization, wrote Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti to say he found it “inconceivable” that a Ravens player would “step into this controversial divide.” Faster than a safety blitz, Burns was buried in the blowback of a changing world, even in the macho National Football League. Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe kicked in with an obscenity-laced posting that reminded Burns that segregation in pro sports ended with “brave athletes and coaches daring to speak their mind and do the right thing.”
Burns wrote in his letter that he knew “of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing.” If so, he is not reading the sports pages. The San Francisco 49ers became the first NFL team this season to do a video for the “It Gets Better” campaign against anti-gay bullying. Many individual players, including Patriots star tight end Rob Gronkowski and Washington’s rookie quarterback sensation Robert Griffin III, have said they would have no problem with openly gay teammates. Others, including Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin and likely Hall of Fame sackmaster Michael Strahan have also spoken out in favor of gay marriage.
The burst of support for Ayanbadejo forced Burns to back off his demand that the Ravens curb Ayanbadejo’s activism, telling the Baltimore Sun that “upon reflection,” the team should honor Ayanbadejo’s right to free expression. Ayanbadejo, who said he considers gay marriage part of the “big picture” of equality, told USA Today, “I’d have to thank him (Burns) more than anything for bringing national attention to the issue.” Marriage advocates should thank Ayanbadejo, too.