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NFL Player Teams Up With LGBT Newspaper In Fight For Equality
June 6, 2013
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In the world of pro sports, Brendon Ayanbadejo stands out - not just because of his play but also for his principles.

As an NFL player, he has been a long time, outspoken ally of the LGBT community and a big supporter of marriage equality and gay rights (as he talks about in the video at the top).

Today, Ayanbadejo stepped up again, announcing a partnership with the Washington Blade - America's oldest, national newspaper for the LGBT community.

He plans to work with the paper to advance the push for LGBT equality and serve as the guest editor of a sports-themed issue.

"I'm extremely honored to be able to work with the Blade," Ayanbadejo said. "I think through sports is the easiest way to reach a lot of people in a demographic that typically wouldn't hear about equality and why it is so near and dear to us."

The content for the paper's sports-themed issue, to be released on August 30, hasn't been decided yet. But Blade editor Kevin Naff is hoping to further the culture of openness in pro sports.

"It is my hope that we will get a professional athlete or two to make an announcement," Naff said. "We'll see."

NFL-player-teams-up-with-LGBT-newspaper-to-keep-up-the-push-for-equality-feature4.jpgAyanbadejo made national news last fall when a Maryland state senator wrote a letter to the Baltimore Ravens urging them to stop him from speaking out about gay rights. Instead, Ayanbadejo became more of a force for equality.

"I have to thank him for making me a global story," Ayanbadejo told USA Today.

"I've gotten letters from Argentina, Brazil, Australia, all over Europe and the UK, all in support of marriage equality. The guys who put their foot in their mouth make more news than the guys out there doing the right thing."

The state of Maryland, by the way, had a referendum on marriage equality last November, which passed.

This year, Ayanbadejo and another NFL player, Chris Kluwe, filed a joint amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in a case about California's ban on same-sex marriage.

He also spoke about the importance of marriage equality at rally on the steps of the Supreme Court and in the video below.

Along the way, Ayanbadejo has appeared on Meet the Press and Face the Nation. And former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue presented him and Kluwe with the 'Straight for Equality in Sports Award' at an event in New York.

Ayanbadejo told the New York Daily News he was thrilled when the NBA's Jason Collins came out as the first openly gay man in a major North American sport.

"It made me smile inside and it warmed my heart," he said. "I got to meet him and tell him I've been watching him for a long time."

Ayanbadejo started speaking out about LGBT rights in 2009, inspired in large part because of his mom who's Irish American and his dad who's originally from Nigeria.

He told the Daily News he might never have been born if his parents had met in the 60s, when America had laws prohibiting interracial marriage. But they met in the 70s, and by then, the laws had changed after a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"The LGBT movement is a continuation of the civil rights movement," said Ayanbadejo. "Now it is LGBT time."

"I feel like the timing was right and we're making a lot of progress in this country," he said. "We still have a long way to go, but we're getting there."

NFL-player-teams-up-with-LGBT-newspaper-to-keep-up-the-push-for-equality-feature3.jpg
Ayanbadejo at a rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court

As for homophobia in pro sports, Ayanbadejo said things have changed a lot in recent years as many of today's players grew up in a generation where homosexuality was more widely accepted.

He said players are also more aware that anti-gay slurs can be emotionally damaging to people struggling with their sexuality.

"People didn't think their words were hurting people's feelings, but we know the F-word contributes to bullying and sometimes even to suicide," he said. "Sometimes we don't appreciate the power our words have."

This past April, Ayanbadejo suggested four NFL players were considering coming out, saying the players were "trying to be organized" so they could come out together on the same day.

"I think it will happen sooner than you think," Ayanbadejo told the Baltimore Sun. "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," he said.

NFL-player-teams-up-with-LGBT-newspaper-to-keep-up-the-push-for-equality-feature1.jpg

"Of course, there would be backlash," he said. "If they could share the backlash, it would be more positive. It's cool. It's exciting. We're in talks with a few guys who are considering it. 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."

So far, it hasn't happened.

Ayanbadejo won the Super Bowl with the Ravens this past season, but was cut in April - a move he says the team made because of his age, not his activism.

"I graduated college in '99 and I'm going on 37," Ayanbadejo told USA Today. "For a guy in my field, I've done everything you can do in the NFL. There's no need to cry for me."

"The Ravens were so instrumental in helping me talk to LGBT groups in Maryland," he told The Daily News. "I had a ton of support in Baltimore and Maryland for what I was doing."

NFL-player-teams-up-with-LGBT-newspaper-to-keep-up-the-push-for-equality-feature2.jpg
Ayanbadejo with openly gay Maryland state delegate Mary Washington, with his son and partner nearby

Now, as a free agent, Ayanbadejo is open to another season but he's not desperate to hang on. "I've done everything I wanted to do in the NFL," he said. "I'm ready to move on to the next chapter."

Yesterday, he was at the White House as President Barack Obama paid tribute to the Ravens' Super Bowl win. He's also speaking at a pride event at the U.S. Department of the Interior. Tomorrow, he'll be back in Baltimore for the Ravens' ring ceremony.

And next week, he'll be at the West Coast Liberty Awards in West Hollywood where he'll be honoured by Lambda Legal - an organization which has fought for LGBT equality for 40 years.

This summer, he'll get his MBA from George Washington University and hopes to start a foundation and visit high schools around the U.S. to talk about LGBT and civil rights issues.

"I've been doing one thing since I was 14 years old, school and football, so I'm excited to move on to other things," he said. "I'm fortunate and blessed that this issue has found me."

Related stories

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Being Gay In The NFL: The Secrets, The Culture, The Fear & The Changing Attitudes

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