Super Bowl champion Brendon Ayanbadejo's recent cut from the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday has created a stir across the internet as early comments by the linebacker seemed to link the Ravens’ decision with Ayanbadejo’s notable gay rights activism.
"My bark is louder than my bite," Ayanbadejo told Newsday on Thursday. "I make a lot of noise and garner a lot of attention for various things off the football field. When that starts happening, why do you have that player around? I don't necessarily think that teams want this type of attention."
Ayanbadejo soon clarified his comments through Twitter, and later in an interview with the Baltimore Sun, admitting to having unintentionally sparked criticism where it may be undue. The Ravens were quick to issue statements defending their decision as purely football-related:
"We're surprised that he would indicate this. We have always been respectful of Brendon's opinions and his right to express those," Ravens senior vice president of public and community relations Kevin Byrne told the Sun. "Our decision regarding his departure from the team has everything to do with football. Nothing else."
The 36-year-old linebacker from Chicago was due a $940,000 salary this year, as part of a 3-year $3.2 million contract.
A long-time gay rights activist, Ayanbadejo has blogged about same-sex marriage equality, contributed video clips for the Marylanders For Marriage Equality campaign, and maintained an active Twitter account through which he is currently spreading his thoughts on his recent cut, his praise for the Ravens, and his abhorrence for homophobia.
After five years with the Ravens, Ayanbadejo will now focus his energy on making moves in the field of social policy, particularly using his background with NFL, which has yet to have an openly gay player.
Although change may be coming “sooner than you think”; according to Ayanbadejo, four current NFL players are considering coming out publicly in the near future.
Ayanbadejo told the Sun that they are currently working on organizing the players who are interested in coming out so that they may do so together. "We're in talks with a handful of players who are considering it … 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."
As we wait to see what this does for marriage equality, we will also see what this does for football, a traditionally macho sport with a history of anti-gay inflammatory comments, most recently by 49ers Chris Culliver’s insistence that gay players would not be welcome on the team, aired on the Artie Lange Show after the Super Bowl, warning them to “come out 10 years after that.”
Ayanbadejo acknowledged the NFL’s seemingly hostile environment, but maintains an optimistic view about the future for gays in the League, noting that the Ravens have known his stance on gay rights for years, and have been facilitating and organizing him with LGBT throughout his career.
"Of course, there would be backlash. If they could share the backlash, it would be more positive. It's cool. It's exciting…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," he said to the Sun.
Although there is little speculation as to who the closeted players may be, they would join the ranks of Wade Davis, David Kopay, Roy Simmons, and Esera Tuaolo, gay former NFL players who have helped pave the way to making the pro-sports arena a safe place for gay athletes.
Of course, we cannot ignore the timing of this event. As we wait for the Supreme Court decisions on two potentially landmark cases on marriage equality, Ayanbadejo’s cut from the Ravens — whether related to his gay rights advocacy or not — might just be starting the sort of conversation within the types of communities we need to move forward.