Ex-Bear Ayanbadejo won’t back down from controversial stances
BY SEAN JENSEN firstname.lastname@example.org January 30, 2013 8:15PM
SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 18: Brendan Ayanbadejo #51 of the Baltimore Ravens looks on during his team's 34-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers during their NFL Game on December 18, 2011 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Brendan Ayanbadejo
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Updated: March 2, 2013 11:53AM
NEW ORLEANS — During NFL offseasons, when he visits friends and relatives in Chicago and Santa Cruz, Brendon Ayanbadejo marvels at his life.
Undrafted out of UCLA, he didn’t make it out of training camp with the Atlanta Falcons then he bounced around the Canadian Football League and NFL Europe for three years before making the cut with the Miami Dolphins in 2003. He had a Chicago homecoming from 2005 to 2007, making two Pro Bowls as a special-teams ace for the Bears, then he departed via free agency to the Baltimore Ravens.
Ayanbadejo’s career path has been unusual, as has his emergence as one of the few outspoken heterosexual advocates for legalizing same-sex marriage in the NFL. Ayanbadejo has approached the issue with the same ferocity he does opponents on the field.
Both, in his mind, are automatic.
“I’m surprised that doing what’s right, in this day and age, really shouldn’t be applauded. That surprises me,” he said earlier this week. “But I’m not surprised because I was the first athlete to talk about it at a time where not too many people are talking about it.
“Since then, other athletes have been open about it. We’re headed in the right direction.”
Although he was born in Chicago, he spent many of his formative years in Santa Cruz, which he describes as a “progressive city” about 72 miles south of San Francisco.
“There are a lot of things I learned when I was 10, 11 or 12 are coming to fruition today, whether it’s holistic medicine, or equal rights or even marijuana rights,” he said. “Those are things people in Santa Cruz were already doing.’’
Former Bears teammate Hunter Hillenmeyer said he’s not surprised that Ayanbadejo has been so active in such a politically charged issue. Ayanbedejo didn’t back down when Maryland State Delegate Emmett C. Burns demanded in a letter last August that Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti “inhibit such expressions from your employee.”
“He’s always danced to the beat of another drum,” Hillenmeyer said, “and I mean that as a compliment.”
On Wednesday, Ayanbadejo suggested an NFL team might be ready to have an openly gay player so long as he’s a “great person and you play high-caliber football.”
But two players cast doubt on whether that’s imminent.
San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver told radio host Artie Lang, “No, ain’t got no gay people on the team.
“They gotta get up outta here if they do,” he said. “Can’t be that sweet stuff.”
Asked if an NFL team is ready for an openly gay player, one Raven, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said, “I don’t know because everyone changes in [the locker room] and people might be a little self-conscious.”
Based on percentages, Hillenmeyer believes there are gay players on NFL rosters but that striving for “uniformity” discourages them from coming out.
“Clearly if there’s still that level of ignorance, then someone coming out would be disruptive and divisive in a locker room,” Hillenmeyer said. “No one should have to hide who they are. There are obviously some gay players, and they’ve chosen not to come out and that’s their prerogative. But it’s unfortunate that the cultural dynamic is such that none of them feel comfortable enough to come out.”
Ayanbadejo hopes his stance will help lead to change.
“I’m going to love my kids unconditionally,” he said, “and I might be paving the way for them to have a better future.”