There’s been a lot of talk in recent weeks about the possibility that one or more gay NFL players might be preparing to come out of the closet. At first it seemed to be mere speculation, but the chatter continued.
Today, former Baltimore Ravens linebacker (and now free agent) Brendon Ayanbadejo, an outspoken straight ally for LGBT equality, dropped the strongest hint yet that an NFL coming-out may indeed be in the works. And not just one player, but possibly up to four at once.
The Baltimore Sun reports:
Ayanbadejo, who was given recognition along with [Chris] Kluwe from former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue at the event Thursday night, predicted that more than one player may come out as gay during their playing career. Ayanbadejo said the groundwork is being laid to reduce the pressure on such a player, and said as many as four players could conceivably come out simultaneously.
“I think it will happen sooner than you think,” Ayanbadejo said. “We’re in talks with a handful of players who are considering it. There are up to four players being talked to right now and they’re trying to be organized so they can come out on the same day together. It would make a major splash and take the pressure off one guy. It would be a monumental day if a handful or a few guys come out.
“Of course, there would be backlash. If they could share the backlash, it would be more positive. It’s cool. It’s exciting. We’re in talks with a few guys who are considering it. The NFL and organizations are already being proactive and open if a player does it and if something negative happens. We’ll see what happens.”
While such an unprecedented coming-out would undoubtedly be incredibly difficult and trigger a lot of anti-gay backlash, it would also completely reshape the conversation around homophobia in sports. And imagine the amazing and inspiring message it would send to other gay NFL stars and youth football players across the country!
For those of you who don’t already know, I was born and raised in Green Bay, Wisconsin — a small, conservative Midwestern town which absolutely reveres its NFL team, the Green Bay Packers. While I’m not the world’s most rabid football fan myself, I selfishly hope that one of the gay players who chooses to come out might be a Packer player. I don’t think I can overstate what a difference that would make for the conversation about LGBT rights and the public perception of the LGBT community in northeastern Wisconsin.
Sports blog SB Nation says such a day would be “the most insane day of the NFL offseason in human history,” and that it would basically “make the sports world explode.” In a good way.
ACTION UPDATE: On Twitter?
On Twitter? Please click below to retweet this message to show support for any gay NFL players thinking about coming out of the closet.
— John M. Becker (@freedom2marry) April 5, 2013
Joe Jervis of Joe.My.God reports:
NFL stars and LGBT allies Chris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo today filed a joint Supreme Court brief in support of the overturn of Proposition 8. From the brief’s introduction:
Sports figures receive a celebrity status that influences a large majority of the American population. For far too long, professional sports have been a bastion of bigotry, intolerance, and small-minded prejudice toward sexual orientation, just as they had been to racial differences decades earlier. That is finally changing, and changing drastically. The NFL, NHL, MLB, and NBA, at the league level, team level, and individual level, are finally speaking out against homophobia and intolerance of LBGTQ individuals. More and more of us realize that using demeaning slur words like “faggot,” “queer,” and “gay” can have serious, negative consequences. Not necessarily consequences for us. Instead, consequences for the children and adults who look up to us as role models and leaders. Consequences for children and adults who mimic our behavior when they interact with others. And consequences that can be severe, long-lasting, and not infrequently lead to suicide and other serious harm.
Amazing. Click here to read their brief in full.
You know we’ve reached a tipping point on LGBT rights when an NFL player wins the Super Bowl and, instead of thinking about all the lucrative endorsement deals he’ll be able to score, he hits the airwaves to use his newly enlarged platform to advocate for equality.
But that’s exactly what Baltimore Ravens linebacker (and Super Bowl champion) Brendon Ayanbadejo is doing this week. He’s been an out and proud LGBT ally for awhile now, but Brendon isn’t letting something as trivial as, ummm, winning the Super Bowl tire him out. Yesterday he gave CNN’s Don Lemon what may be my favorite interview of the year so far — Lemon opened by asking Ayanbadejo why he chose the Super Bowl as a time to talk about marriage equality, and Ayanbadejo responded:
Well, I don’t really consider it gay rights, I just call it rights. Everyone deserves to be treated equally.
And it just gets better from there. Ayanbadejo brilliantly explains why LGBT rights are civil rights and makes a point of expanding the conversation to include gender identity and expression. Watch below:
As On Top Magazine points out, by bringing attention to the plight of transgender Americans, Ayanbadejo is likely signaling his support for a law currently being considered by the Maryland General Assembly that would expand workplace protections by adding gender identity to the list of protected categories alongside race, gender, religion, etc.
The Ravens linebacker also published an op-ed in today’s edition of USA Today — the nation’s second-largest newspaper by circulation — in which he calls for the end of homophobia in professional sports and challenges his fellow athletes in the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB to create an LGBT-affirming athletic climate that will “pave the way” for “the first openly gay man in U.S. major professional sports.”
Equally outspoken in his advocacy is fellow NFL player Chris Kluwe, a punter for the Minnesota Vikings. You may remember Kluwe for writing a brilliantly biting defense of Ayanbadejo after a Maryland politician attacked him for supporting equal marriage rights (or for putting two particularly memorable phrases from that column onto T-shirts and selling them to raise money for an LGBT rights group in Minnesota, or for dexterously excoriating Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt after he essentially told the mother of a gay son that she’d have to choose between accepting her son and saving her soul, or… well, you get the idea.). Kluwe talked yesterday with MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts about the importance of speaking out for equality:
Kluwe reiterated his support for Ayanbadejo and his call for an LGBT-inclusive sports environment in a statement given to BuzzFeed‘s Chris Geidner:
I stand with Brendon and every other person, athlete and non-athlete alike, who says that discrimination in any form is not the legacy we will hand down to our children. I am proud to be an Athlete Ally, and I hope others will join us in treating all people with compassion, dignity, and respect. A gay player in sports is not defined by their sexuality, but by how they play, and I support any player who wishes to be him or herself with everything I have. Treat others the way you want to be treated.
Treat others the way you want to be treated — it really is as simple as that. Here’s hoping that more professional athletes follow the example set by Chris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo so that one day, very soon, gay athletes will feel safe, comfortable, and supported enough to come out of the closet while they’re still active players, rather than waiting until they’ve retired to do so.
Maryland state delegate Emmett C. Burns, Jr. was apparently so upset by Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo’s public endorsement of marriage equality (in a YouTube video that I’ve included below) that he wrote an angry letter to Steve Bisciotti, the team’s owner, demanding that the NFL franchise reprimand him:
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 refused to back down, and today, Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe came to his colleague’s defense in a hilarious, colorful open letter to Burns published on the sports site Deadspin. Here’s how he begins:
Dear Emmett C. Burns Jr.,
I find it inconceivable that you are an elected official of Maryland’s state government. 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. The views you espouse neglect to consider several fundamental key points, which I will outline in great detail (you may want to hire an intern to help you with the longer words):
1. As I suspect you have not read the Constitution, I would like to remind you that the very first, the VERY FIRST Amendment in this founding document deals with the freedom of speech, particularly the abridgment of said freedom. 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? It baffles me that a man such as yourself, a man who relies on that same First Amendment to pursue your own religious studies without fear of persecution from the state, could somehow justify stifling another person’s right to speech. To call that hypocritical would be to do a disservice to the word. Mindf***ing obscenely hypocritical starts to approach it a little bit.
Head over to Deadspin to read the rest. It’s well worth it. If, like me, you found yourself cheering in approval as you read the excerpt above, you’re in for a treat — Kluwe’s letter just gets better from there.