National Football League linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo has been under the spotlight because he supports same sex marriage.
In late August, a Maryland legislator sent a letter to the owner of the Baltimore Ravens, Ayanbadejo's team, asking for the 36-year-old to be punished for his public opinions (a marriage rights law will be on the Maryland ballot in November). Judging from the profile of Ayanbadejo in yesterday's (14 Sept.) New York Times, the linebacker is more than ready to have a vigorous debate.
In 2009, Ayanbadejo became one of the few athletes in a major sport to stand for marriage equality. He said a few of his teammates made rude comments and wondered when he was coming out. He didn't feel a need to defend himself, Ayanbadejo has two children with a girlfriend, but was always ready to talk.
'If I was walking by, and they wanted to be immature and make comments, I’d keep walking,' Ayanbadejo said to the newspaper. 'If they wanted to be real men and have conversations, I would have, but no one did.'
His past offers some clues on his willingness to be unconventional. Raised in a Chicago housing project, the linebacker's early life was marked by poverty. When he was 10, his family moved to Santa Cruz, Calif., and the biracial child, his mother is Irish and father Nigerian, was accepted on his own terms. This continued in high school, where he played US football, participated in theater, rode a skateboard, and had a number of out gay friends.
He attended UCLA, and collaborated with fellow athletes to form an organization focused on diversity in higher education.
'At UCLA., everyone knew Brendon was different,' longtime friend Michael Skolnik said to the newspaper. 'Everyone knew the football field was not his ultimate destination.'
Even Ayanbadejo's announcement about gay marriage was out of the box. In 2008, he was concerned President Barack Obama was supporting civil unions as opposed to marriage. In April 2009, the linebacker penned a Huffington Post blog, wondering why all the fuss surrounding gay marriage certficates.
'I think we will look back in 10, 20, 30 years and be amazed that gays and lesbians did not have the same rights as every one else,' Ayanbadejo wrote. 'How did this ever happen in the land of the free and the home of the brave? Are we really free?'
Marriage equality advocates applaud the three-time Pro Bowler for standing up in a sport that is well known for its conservative culture.
'When it comes to identifying professional athletes who can help, it’s not easy,' said Brian Ellner, a supporter of same-sex marriage. 'And Brendon originally did it without being contacted by anyone.'