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Social Impact | January 29, 2013

Ravens linebacker comes out for gay marriage


Brendon Ayanbadejo seeking to harness super bowl media for "marriage equality"

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo

The Super Bowl is the biggest American sporting event of the year, and for some athletes, it is also the perfect platform for promoting political and social messages.

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo wants to use the big game to stump for same-sex "marriage." In an email addressed to Brian Ellner, a high-profile same-sex "marriage" advocate, and Michael Skolnik, editor of the Global Grind website, Ayanbadejo wrote last Monday, "Is there anything I can do for marriage equality or anti-bullying over the next couple of weeks to harness this Super Bowl media?"

"It's one of those times when you're really passionate and in your zone," Ayanbadejo told The New York Times. "And I got to thinking about all kinds of things, and I thought: how can we get our message out there?"

Last year's Super Bowl was the most-watched television program in U.S. history, capturing an estimated 111.3 million viewers.

Ayanbadejo has publicly supported the legalization of same-sex "marriage" since 2009. In Sept. 2012, his advocacy spurred Maryland State Delegate Emmett C. Burns, Jr. to write a letter to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti asking him to "inhibit such expressions from your employee." The letter was ignored by the Ravens and publicly dismissed by Ayanbadejo.

Ayanbadejo told The New York Times that his support for same-sex "marriage" stems from the "very liberal society" in which he was raised. Ayanbadejo's stepfather worked as a resident director of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender dorm at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

While professional athletes have often remained silent on political and social debates-such bold statements could jeopardize their endorsement deals and future contracts-many athletes have taken public stances on popular issues in recent years. And Ayanbadejo is not the first athlete to take advantage of the Super Bowl spotlight. In 2011, Tim Tebow, then quarterback for the University of Florida, starred in a pro-life TV commercial that aired during the game. Women's rights and abortion rights groups protested CBS's decision to run the advertisement.

Not all of Ayanbadejo's teammates agree with his political ideas. Ravens' Pro Bowl center Matt Birk expressed his support of traditional marriage in Oct. 2012 when he wrote a letter opposing Maryland's same-sex "marriage" referendum. The Baltimore Sun published the letter to the editor just days before the referendum passed.

"The institution of marriage is under attack by many different forces in our culture today," Birk wrote. "But it is the basic foundation of our society. To further damage it will cause increased cultural erosion.

"Redefining marriage is not the answer during these hard times. Rededication to marriage and family is."

Birk, a devout Catholic and father of six, told The Baltimore Sun that his beliefs have not affected his relationship with teammate Ayanbadejo.

Superstar Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, a professed Christian, has not commented on the marriage debate.

While Ayanbadejo has not yet revealed how he plans on using the Super Bowl to promote his message, he does want to appear on Ellen DeGeneres' television talk show to discuss the issue. Super Bowl XLVII takes place this coming Sunday.