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Brendon Ayanbadejo is in his 10th season as an NFL linebacker, the last five with the Baltimore Ravens. The two-time All-Pro hails from Santa Cruz, Calif., attended UCLA and throughout his career has lived a vibrant, out-of-football life.
He's written columns for his hometown paper, the Santa Cruz Sentinel. He's fought for federal legislation requiring schools to monitor kids' physical activities and promote proper nutrition. He's worked relentlessly on environmental sustainability issues.
And, of late, he's been a major advocate of same sex marriage, which was legalized in Maryland earlier this year but faces a ballot initiative in November.
It's that stance, and Ayanbadejo's actions in support, that found him under the wrath of a local pastor and state house of delegates-member Emmett C. Burns Jr. (D-Baltimore County).
Burns went nuts last week, firing off a letter on Maryland House of Delegate letterhead to Ravens owner Steven Bisciotti seeking action against Ayanbadejo.
"I find it inconceivable that one of your players, Mr. Brendon Ayanbadejo would publicly endorse Same-Sex marriage, specifically as a Raven Football player," Burns wrote in the letter first obtained by WBAL-TV. "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.
"Many of your fans are opposed to such a view and feel it has no place in a sport that is strictly for pride, entertainment and excitement," Burns continued. "I believe Mr. Ayanbadejo should concentrate on football and steer clear of dividing the fan base.
"I am requesting that you take the necessary action, as a National Football League Owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employees and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions. I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing."
Oh, boy, where to start?
[Jason Cole: Cowboys display rare toughness in victory over Giants]
I find it inconceivable that an elected politician is in favor of an employer overriding his collectively bargained labor agreement and suddenly, and illegally, taking action to inhibit political activity.
I find it even more inconceivable that anyone – let alone a government official – would demand the employer act like a pseudo government and wipe out the freedom of expression in a debate on equal rights.
This isn't hate speech or a slur, it's participating in a ballot initiative on a law that Burns' own fellow politicians just passed.
Of course, that's no more inconceivable than someone who believes sports has no place being anything more than "entertainment" and "excitement." He apparently missed the impact of Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, Tommie Smith, John Carlos and so on and so on and so on.
Tim Tebow being one of those "so ons."
Then again, how do you figure out someone who is apparently troubled that an NFL football player would say or do something that's not in complete agreement with every single NFL fan? February's Super Bowl was viewed by 166.8 million people, we're pretty sure that includes someone from every single way of thinking imaginable.
And, of course, Burns is a fool if he thinks there aren't gay Ravens fans out there. Or even gay Ravens. Or just straight people, deeply religious even, who because of Ayanbadejo's work on the issue now consider him their favorite player.
Oh, and Burns isn't real strong on the rules of capitalization either.
For the record, the Ravens declined comment to The Washington Post on the letter. Don't expect anything to come of it. The league has a long and proper history of allowing players to express themselves.
None of this is about whether you support or oppose gay marriage in Maryland or anywhere else. Go ahead and debate that among yourselves.
[Michael Silver: Only winning will cure Cam Newton's pouting]
It's about the idea that NFL players should be robots who simply play football and have no outside thoughts or interests. That's not who most of them are. It's the same defense that Tebow deserves when some grow angry that he honors his faith during football games. Why shouldn't he? Who is that hurting? Besides, it's not just Tebow. Go ahead and try counting how many touchdowns get scored this weekend without someone pointing to the sky.
It's not even about gay marriage. This is about common sense and the common good. America doesn't need its natural role models – pro athletes – stifled from showing their broader interests, their intellectual curiosity, their thoughts and beliefs and education and politics.
Ayanbadejo wasn't on the field making some big display. In his private life he's spoken on the subject, written online columns in support of the law and, The Washington Post reports, offered up two Ravens tickets as a fundraiser for the group Marylanders for Marriage Equality.
That's what Burns considers "injurious"? Until Burns got all appalled and aghast we doubt most people even knew about it.
We need more Brendon Ayanbadejos, not fewer, the way we need more Tim Tebows, not fewer. We need more young men aware of and engaged in the big, complex world outside the film room, not less. Let the free market place of ideas sort out who is followed or not.
We need more NFL players who are motivated by thinking and not just acquiring material goods. We need kids to see that football is a fleeting job and that understanding a larger world is far more important. We need more examples of people respectfully standing up for what they believe in, even on a subject that is historically taboo in team locker rooms.
This is a diverse country, diverse even inside the diversity. We need diverse role models to serve it.
There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with Ayanbadejo. He, like Tebow, stuck his neck out there. They knew there would be disagreement and to both of their credits, they didn't complain.
"Football is just my job it's not who I am," Ayanbadejo wrote on Twitter. "I am an American before anything. And just like every American I have the right to speak!!!"
Indeed he does. And that right to speak – for or against this or any other legitimate issue, from nearly any point on the political spectrum – shouldn't be shouted down, shouldn't have small-minded pastors or politicians screaming for silence.
It should be respected.
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