Last night was a special night for a lot of people. For the Ravens players. For the staff and coaches of the team. For the fans. For the city of Baltimore.
After a hard fought Super Bowl game, the Baltimore Ravens are World Champions! However, one player has been a champion in a lot of people's hearts for a long time, including mine. Brendon Ayanbadejo courageously stood up in support of marriage equality over four years ago. He lives by a saying that has guided my social justice work: The rights you take for granted are only valid if you fight to give those same rights to others.
As an unwavering ally, he has used his platform as an NFL player to fight for the rights of all people, especially the gay and lesbian community. I have followed Brendon's journey fighting for equality off-the-field, and could not be more proud of him. I had the chance to speak with the Super Bowl champ and wanted to share with you all our conversation about marriage equality, his upbringing and his message to the President.
Hey Brendon, It is nice to speak you, my brother.
Thanks Russell, it is a pleasure to speak with you as well.
I know your time is limited, but I wanted to talk to you a little bit about your incredible commitment for equality. If you could describe equality, how would you describe it?
Equality means that every single person, no matter your race, creed, sexual orientation, advantages or disadvantages, are all treated equally.
What personal experiences made you want to come out and support gay marriage when you knew you would probably be one of the only football players to do so? What type of discrimination or things did you see that really made you want to make a change?
Being a '70s baby and growing up in the '80s and '90s, I witnessed firsthand the rise of the African-American community into mainstream America. All of a sudden when I was in junior high school and going into high school, black was the cool thing to be. Everybody wanted to be black and embrace black people. Prior to that in the '60s, my parents would not have been allowed to get married due to interracial marriage laws and today this issue is relevant once again, however, it's not about race. It is about sexual orientation and whom you choose to love, which is no different than a black person loving a white person. Same sex couples should legally marry whomever they fall in love with. So the same plight for equality that affected me in the '60s is relevant again today, it doesn't affect me this time, but it will affect people I love and care about. This isn't a fight for gay rights, this is a fight for human rights.
How homophobic is the NFL culture? Do you see the tide changing significantly with the acceptance of gays and legalization of gay marriage in certain states?
The NFL culture has come a long way from four years ago. The younger generation of players are a lot more open-minded, forward thinking and accepting of the LGBT community.
What do you think the NFL can do to make players who might be on the down low feel comfortable? What steps can the NFL take to make homosexuality acceptable period?
I don't think this is a question of what the NFL can do, I think it is more of a question of what everybody in sports can do to be more accepting of the LGBT community. With organizations like Athlete Ally, we are starting to change the way and encourage our LGBT brothers and sisters to stick with sports and keep on playing all sports in general and not be bullied out of the sport that they love.
How hard has it been being one of the only players to support gay marriage in such a "macho" sport?
Being the first pioneer publicly accepting same-sex marriage in the three major sports was difficult at first but the more people scrutinized me and ridiculed me, the stronger I became for the issue. It was like lifting weights; the resistance made me stronger, stand taller and speak louder for LGBT rights!
If you could say one thing to President Obama, what would you tell him?
The first thing I would say to Obama is “what the heck took you so long!” (he laughs) Secondly, I would tell him that I am so proud and especially happy for my two children that we have an African-American president in office and they get to look up to him and realize that anything is possible. But then again, it is not such an impossibility because you have already made it come true.
Congrats on that Super Bowl win, my man. Go get some rest. You deserve it.
Thank you! I am very happy for my team, the organization, the fans and the city of Baltimore. They have been incredible to me and my family! Now it is time to make sure all families can share in the same opportunities that we can. Our work has just begun!