Saturday, September 8, 2012

Baltimore Raven Brendon Ayanbadejo stands up for marriage equality

It only takes a quick Google search to find out how many Baltimore Ravens players have been arrested over the past decade. Here's a partial rap sheet: driving under the influence, assaulting a police officer, possession of cocaine and domestic violence.

I wonder how many times Maryland lawmaker Emmett C. Burns Jr. has written letters to team owner Steve Bisciotti criticizing the actions of those football players? Please correct me if I'm wrong, but my guess is zero.

But apparently, there's a Ravens player whose actions were so offensive - injurious is the word Burns used - that he felt compelled to share his dismay, on official stationery, and demand that the team owner put a halt to this behavior.

What, you might ask, did linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo do to arouse the anger of a Maryland official? He publicly stated his support for same-sex marriage, which will be on the ballot in Maryland in November.

"It's an equality issue," Ayanbadejo said. "I see the big picture. There was a time when women didn't have rights. Black people didn't have rights. Right now, gay rights is a big issue and it's been for a long time. We're slowly chopping down the barriers to equality."

Burns says that his constituents are "appalled and aghast that a member of the Ravens Football Team would step into this controversial divide and try to sway public opinion one way or the other."  He asks Bisciotti to "inhibit such expressions from your employee."

The idea that a lawmaker would write to someone's employer demanding that he be silenced is reprehensible and un-American. Last time I checked we still had a First Amendment and I think the right to free speech extends to professional football players. 

Brendon Ayanbadejo should be applauded for standing up so publicly in support of marriage equality. And kudos, too, to Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe for adding his voice. The right to marry the person they love isn't a fight our gay and lesbian friends, coworkers, neighbors and family should have to make alone.

In responding to Burns' letter, Ayanbadejo says the right to free speech "is what our country was founded upon. For somebody to try to take that away from me, I was pretty surprised. From a politician especially." Clearly, he's the one who should be in the Maryland legislature.

As for Burns, I think Domonique Foxworth, president of the NFL Players Association, says it best in defending the rights of players to speak out on matters of public concern that some may consider controversial:

"I guess the really surprising thing was that once I heard about it, I looked up who Emmett Burns was. Just to see a 70-something-year-old man who grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, who shares a first name with Emmett Till, who was essentially a martyr for freedom of speech and freedom of expression ... For someone who has had that unique life experience to encourage silencing an individual, you would assume it would go against what everything someone like that would believe. I can't imagine a black person growing up in Mississippi would ever have been in favor of quieting someone's free speech. It's odd."

Update: 1-22-13 The Baltimore Ravens are going to the Super Bowl and Brendon Ayanbadejo has offered to use his moment in the spotlight to do what he can for marriage equality and anti-bullying efforts. Thank-you Brendon and go Ravens! And congratulations to all of the gay and lesbian couples in Maryland, Maine and Washington state who are now able to marry the person they love.

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