Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo looks toward the field… (Christopher T. Assaf, Baltimore…)
Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo said Friday he was surprised that Maryland Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr., a Democrat from Baltimore County, sent a letter to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti urging him to silence his outspoken player, who has long been a vocal proponent of same-sex marriage.
“Many of my constituents and your football supporters 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,” Burns wrote in the letter dated Aug. 29.
Burns said Ayanbadejo, a 36-year-old California native, should concentrate on football.
“I was surprised. Just what our country was founded on, for someone to try to take that away from me, I was pretty surprised that something like that would come up, especially from a politician,” Ayanbadejo said in his first comments to the media on the issue. Ayanbadejo said members of the Ravens organization, including team president Dick Cass, offered words of support Friday at the Under Armour Performance Center and a few gave him a high-five.
No other delegates have reached out to him about the issue, Ayanbadejo said. He thanked the public for its support and said people have responded positively on Facebook and Twitter, where he sometimes offers opinions on politics.
“Surprisingly, Steelers fans, Patriots fans, Bengals fans, Cowboys fans, people who don't even watch the NFL have all sent me messages saying that, ‘I now have a reason to watch football or even cheer for the Ravens because of your support for equality,' so that feels good,” he said.
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley and Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe were among the NFL players who backed Ayanbadejo on social media and the Internet on Friday.
Ayanbadejo was among the first professional athletes to express support for marriage equality. He wrote an op-ed piece for The Huffington Post and filmed video spots for Equality Maryland. Same-sex marriage isn't a “gay” issue, it's an “equality” issue, he said.
“I see the big picture,” Ayanbadejo said. “There was a time when women didn't have rights, black people didn't have rights, and right now, gay rights is a big issue and it has been for a long time. And so we're slowly chopping down the barriers to equality. We have some minority rights we have to get straight and some gay rights, then we'll be on our way.”
Ayanbadejo said Cass stopped him in the hall at the Ravens' practice facility Friday afternoon to let him know the team supports his right to free speech.
“He [said], ‘We're in support of you, and it's good that you're able to voice your opinion and say how you feel,'” Ayanbadejo said. “Dick personally told me that we're not an organization that discriminates.”
In a statement, Cass said, “We support Brendon's right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment.”
The Ravens plan to draft a letter to Burns, but do not plan to make it public.
Burns, an opponent of same-sex marriage, told The Baltimore Sun on Friday that Ayanbadejo, as a “public person representing a public team,” should avoid commenting on social issues.
“Football is the most masculine sport there is out there, and same-sex marriage goes against that as far as I'm concerned,” he said. “I think it's best that a football player leaves that alone.”
NFL Players Association president Domonique Foxworth said he was disappointed by the letter and called the delegate's request “asinine.” He said the union will always stand by players who use their platform to voice opinions, even if they go against what others believe.
“I don't think football players are different from any other human beings, with the exception of having a larger platform,” said Foxworth, who played for the Ravens from 2009 to 2011. “I think that's all the reason to speak out. Whether people agree with what you're saying or not, it's your right to say it. I don't think any social issues have been solved by silencing one group.”