BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — Fresh off the Baltimore Ravens' Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers, linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo made good on his wish to use the media spotlight on the event to speak out in support of what he calls "just rights."
Ayanbadejo was a spokesperson for Marylanders for Marriage Equality in the leadup to last fall's American elections, in which a majority of Maryland, Maine and Washington State voters supported same-sex marriage at the ballot box.
In a Feb 5 interview with CNN, Ayanbadejo said that now that he is part of a Super Bowl-winning team, his voice "projects that much further" on behalf of the queer community and can lead to more positive change.
The linebacker told host Don Lemon that he doesn't know any current gay NFL players but that it's important to lay the groundwork for the time when gay players decide to come out.
"When our Jackie Robinson comes out, he's going to have a supporting cast around him, and we're going to support him and we're going to treat him just like we treat everybody else . . . with love and fairness and kindness and compassion, because we know it's really gonna be a tough burden on that person."
Asked his reaction to 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver's objection to gay players, Ayanbadejo said it will be a learning experience for him, "especially the comments in San Francisco," which he calls "the hub of LGBT rights" in the US.
Culliver later apologized for his remarks, made on a radio show before the Super Bowl.
"We have to start talking about this issue; we have to educate people," Ayanbadejo said, pointing to groups like Athlete Ally and other NFL players, like the outspoken Chris Kluwe of the Minnesota Vikings, who support inclusiveness in sports.
"A lot of people don't have this conversation," he said.
Asked how he reacts when homosexuality is called an abomination or a sin, the linebacker said religious belief is a right, but it shouldn't be used to disenfranchise others.
Asked what he thinks about the disconnect between those who take offence to the idea of equating civil rights with gay rights, and those who see it as a complementary struggle, Ayanbadejo said it comes down to treating all people fairly.
"If a woman wants to wear a man's clothes or if a man wants to wear women's clothes, or you feel like you're a woman on the inside and you're really man, who cares?" he argues. "Let's move on; let's evolve as a culture, as a people."
Watch the entire CNN interview.