Game Change :: Outspoken Players Impact NFL Image
The New York Times reports that a Baltimore Ravens linebacker’s support for marriage equality may have impacted not only the LGBT community but the NFL as well.
The Times article points out that the NFL "has long fought the stigma of having homophobic culture." Currently, there has yet to be a football player that has come out during his career.
In June, Wade Davis, who played football from 2000 to 2004, came out and said he kept his sexuality a secret for many reasons. One was that he was worried the announcement could negatively affect Davis’ career. The 34 year old said that he didn’t come out of the closet because it could increase his chances of going pro, EDGE reported.
Although there are no openly gay football players, it seems as though more and more NFL stars are voicing their endorsement for marriage equality.
Brendon Ayanbadejo, the linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens, has been a longtime supporter for gay marriage. In 2011, he made a video supporting a measure that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state and in 2009, EDGE reported that he wrote a column for the Huffington Post about gay marriage.
But when Emmett C. Burns Jr., a Democrat from Baltimore County who opposes same-sex marriage, found out that Ayanbadejo was a strong gay rights supporter, he fired off an angry letter to Ravens owner Steve Biscotti.
"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," wrote Burns, "and try to sway public opinion one way or another.
"I am requesting that you take the necessary action, as a National Football League Owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employees and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions. I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing."
Ayanbadejo was shocked by Burns’ letter. "I was surprised to hear the things he was saying and that he wanted me to stop exercising my First Amendment right," he said, according to Silicon Valley’s Mercurey News. "I read it, and I was just like, ’Wow.’"
"It turned a bad situation into a momentous, game-changing occasion for NFL athletes," he said. "In a sport ruled by machismo, it was a changing of the guard that I’ve been waiting to hear since I stated my support for this cause in 2008. I hear everybody backing me up, not just in football, but outside the football community. To hear everybody backing me up and leaving the whole machismo thing behind, that’s progress."
Burns’ response upset another NFL player, Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, who has also been a big backer of gay marriage. Kluwe claimed he could not sleep after reading the politician’s letter and and wrote a response to Burns and sent it to Deadspin.com.
"Your vitriolic hatred and bigotry make me ashamed and disgusted to think that you are in any way responsible for shaping policy at any level," Kluwe wrote and added: "Why do you hate the fact that other people want a chance to live their lives and be happy, even though they may believe in something different than you, or act different than you? How does gay marriage, in any way, shape or form, affect your life?"
LGBT activists have nearly worn their hands down applauding the football players’ actions and what they see as a vital change in the attitudes of professional sports in general, and especially the hyper-macho NFL. Brian Ellner, a leading marriage equality advocate told the Times that the athletes are "heroes."
"This kind of thing has never happened before. It matters because Brendon and Chris are professional athletes who are uniquely positioned to help shape opinions and say to fans, to people who may not be focused on this, that gays are just like you and me," Ellner told the Times.
But not everyone is pleased with the sports stars. When the conservative website Free Republic reported the story, a number of its readers left comments criticizing Ayanbadjeo and Kluwe.
"They are either GAY themselves, into group sex, or they have a family member who is gay," one person wrote. "Another reason I stopped watching nfl games," another reader commented.
By some miraculous chance of fate, the one-man boycott by the Freeper has not appeared to have affected the NFL’s TV ratings.
Oh, and Delegate Burns? He is backtracking big time.
"Upon reflection, he has his First Amendment rights," Burns told the Baltimore Sun in a telephone interview. "And I have my First Amendment rights. ... Each of us has the right to speak our opinions. The football player and I have a right to speak our minds."