March 20, 2014

Former football pro speaks out for gay rights

Brendon Ayanbadejo
Jason Koski/University Photography
Brendon Ayanbadejo of the Baltimore Ravens speaks in Statler Auditorium.

Britney Spears’ 55-hour Las Vegas marriage helped inspire Brendon Ayanbadejo, a retired linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens, a Fox News contributor and Super Bowl champion, to become an ally of the LGBTQ community.

“I always tell people I’m not a LGBTQ advocate. I’m not a children’s rights advocate. I’m an advocate for everybody,” he said March 19 to a full house in Statler Auditorium as part of his presentation, “Athlete Allies: Paving the Way for Inclusivity.”

“I feel like I’m selling myself short if I say I’m an LGBTQ advocate. I believe in everyone being treated equally,” he said.

He related the difficulties that the LGBTQ community faces as well as his own struggles growing up in an urban area of Illinois as a half Nigerian, half Irish kid whose parents divorced.

 “Learning about Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court case that set the precedent for the legalization of interracial marriage, is what sparked me to be an equal rights advocate,” Ayanbadejo said. “There’s still a subset of society that’s just starting to catch up, these are the people we continue to fight for everyday.” 

In 2009, Huffington Post published Ayanbadejo’s first blog, which was about same sex marriages. He questioned why singer Britney Spears, who married in Las Vegas on a whim and almost immediately annulled the marriage, became instantly entitled to hundreds of legal benefits when longstanding LGBTQ couples were not.

Ayanbadejo went on to recount the story of Michael Sam, the NFL prospect and defensive lineman from the University of Missouri who came out before the NFL draft and the power of an allied community.

 “Between his junior and senior year, Michael didn’t do anything differently other than tell the people he cares about the most that he’s gay. After he did that, he had the best season of his life. Imagine if we did that with everyone,” Ayanbadejo said. “If we all lived in a community where everyone cheered us on.”

Ayanbadejo also noted that he took part in the fight to get marriage equality on the Maryland ballot in the 2012 election. Critics asked why would a football player ever get involved with such an issue, but the broad support he received caused his message to go “viral.”

“Not to sell any of my brothers in the NFL short, but a lot of them have nonprofits and foundations with messages about the community,” Ayanbadejo said. “My way of giving back manifested differently than their ways and it was a message no one had seen before.”

He never intended to become the “LGBTQ ambassador” of the NFL, but he soon found himself debating issues of equality with his teammates in the locker room and on the field.

“I always say to them there a million great things in the Bible, but if you love someone you should be allowed to love them,” Ayanbadejo said. “A woman is your equal, but there are women of the house too. I wouldn’t mind staying home if my wife was going to go out and make the money. Frankly I think it’s harder being the stay-at-home parent.”

Ayanbadejo’s concluded by saying that if you have something you are proficient or even good at, that still may not be your greatest achievement.

“Your greatest thing is doing the right thing,” he said.

Cornell AthleteAlly sponsored the event in collaboration with a number of other campus student groups and several Cornell families connected to the cause.

Mark Ezzo ’14 is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.