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In perhaps one of the most telling symbols of America’s continuing evolution toward accepting gay rights and same-sex marriage, many professional athletes have become vocal advocates of the LGBT movement.
Historically, the sports world has been plagued by homophobic slurs and close-mindedness in locker rooms, and that still exists today. But many advocates of gay rights have emerged in several years, none more prominent than the Baltimore Ravens’ linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo.
He has worked to promote gay rights since 2009, and has worked with GLAAD ever since, making speeches and attending events while working to create a more accepting environment within the NFL. Along with Minnesota Vikings punts Chris Kluwe, he filed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court, which is hearing two cases on marriage equality this week. He also appeared at the Supreme Court to show his solidarity with the LGBT movement.
Several weeks ago, while appearing at the GLAAD Awards, Ayanbadejo spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about being an advocate in a difficult environment, and whether he thinks the league would support an openly gay player.
THR: On the eve of the Super Bowl, the 49ers’ Chris Culliver made those anti-gay statements; did that make you motivated to beat them even more?
Ayanbadejo: No, it didn’t, but it just gave everybody open eyes as to what exactly we’re facing. And it wasn’t so much a comment out of hate but a comment out of ignorance, and even he himself did something with the LGBT community to try to educate himself and show his support. So it’s an amazing thing and it’s an amazing time and I’m just glad I could be a part of it.
THR: Have you spoken with him?
Ayanbadejo: I have not, but I reached out to him, so if he ever wants to talk to me, I’m definitely here to support him and never talk to him in a negative manner. It’s all about learning and moving forward.
THR: How did you celebrate the Super Bowl?
Ayanbadejo: I’ve been on a nonstop run for LGBT rights and I’ve been on school; I go to George Washington University fulfilling my MBA. So I’ve been in school and I’ve been doing as much as I can for LGBT rights and just enjoying my time with the family.
THR: I used to work in a baseball clubhouse, and so I know the atmosphere of a place like that. Since you’ve been doing this, have people been giving you shit for it?
Ayanbadejo: Yeah, but I have broad shoulders, and at the end of the day, the guys that give me the most crap, like Terrell Suggs, he voted for marriage equality. So as much as the guys make fun of me, a lot of them have supported the LGBT community, and that means a lot to me.
THR: I remember one time, I was watching players talk, and one said, “Why can’t people just stop being gay?” And another responded, “You really think sexuality is a choice people make?” And the guy’s eyes lit up. Do you ever see anything like that?
Ayanbadejo: Oh, all the time. They think that people choose to be gay and they don’t understand that you’re born straight and you’re born gay. So when you pose the question to them, “Were you born straight? When did you figure out you were straight?” they’re like, “Oh, I’ve always been straight,” then it kind of dawns on them like, “Wow, OK, you’re not gay by choice, you’re gay because that’s just the way you are,” and they think twice once that dawns on them.
THR: Do you see a general opening up, of players becoming more tolerant?
Ayanbadejo: Tolerance is not the word; we’re looking for acceptance. You tolerate someone smoking. I know it’s a little bit semantics, but we’re trying to get past that. So I see guys that are really starting to be accepting and learning, so even when guys making bone-headed comments, like Kobe made a couple of years ago, and then you see Kobe sending tweets like he did a few weeks ago accepting the LGBT community, guys are really coming around.
THR: There have been retired players to come out, but how many active players would estimate are gay but keeping it a secret?
Ayanbadejo: There’s no reason to think it’d be any different than the general population, so that’s all we can assume. We can’t assume any more or any less, so that would mean there’s a handful of gay people in every professional league.
THR: Do you think if someone was to come out, the locker room would be accepting?
Ayanbadejo: I think so. I think they’d be accepted. It’s something that myself, Chris Kluwe, Scott Fujita, we’re all trying to prepare ourselves for, so that person has a foundation and has support when they are ready and they feel society feels ready for them.
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