The Hail Marry Play
Linebacker is not likely to be the first word one associates with marriage equality. But changing times require changing associations. Consider Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo (pictured above). Before Barack Obama set foot in the White House and when Massachusetts was the only state that allowed gays to get hitched, Ayanbadejo was an early marriage equality supporter among his fellow National Football League players. Not only has Ayanbadejo been outwardly supportive, he’s campaigned for marriage equality legislation in his adopted state of Maryland. Sure, not everyone is on the same page — his teammate Matt Birk wrote an op-ed for the Minneapolis Star Tribune explaining why he opposes marriage rights for same-sex couples. However, Ayanbadejo, Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, and Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe are three of the roughly three dozen professional football players who have become vocal about their support for marriage equality, LGBT rights, and out players.
The rising number of marriage equality advocates seems to be reflective of the league as a microcosm for the rest of the country.
“When I first started talking about [marriage equality], it was a completely different set of players in the league, and the league has turned over so much in the four years since I first touched the subject,” says Ayanbadejo. “Now this younger generation has come in and they’re a lot more accepting, a lot more understanding. They’re just a completely different generation of young men who see the world differently.”
The benefits of this changing tide are countless. Perhaps Ayanbadejo and his fellow supportive football players will influence the football fans who can recite every stat about the Ravens or the Rams but don’t really understand exactly why they oppose marriage equality. This kinder, more accepting NFL may even encourage a young kid grappling with being gay to try out for the team, knowing that if he were one of the lucky ones who could play in high school, play in college, and then be drafted by the NFL, he would be just as accepted in the locker room as anyone else.