The National Football League has climbed its way to the forefront of American sports, becoming one of the most visible, popular entities in the nation. It is also undoubtably the most physical, ultra-masculine sport we have in this country, defining the pinnacle of manliness. It is a sport that screams toughness, extreme physical fitness, discipline and order. While these concepts can be positive, they are too often angled towards heterosexuality with bigoted attitudes towards homosexuality. There is seemingly little room in the NFL and other major pro sports for a player to be openly gay. The unwritten rule is gay rights in sports is unacceptable.
Brendon Ayanbadejo is trying to change all that.
Ayanbadejo, the former Baltimore Ravens linebacker, 3-time Pro Bowler and 16-year NFL veteran, made waves in the sports world recently when he stated as many as 4 NFL players may soon come out as gay. Although he has since backtracked on those comments during an interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN, he remained staunch in his belief to organize and support those players, helping pave the way to changing the homophobic culture of the NFL.
A longtime advocate of gay marriage, Ayanbadejo attributes his inspiration to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s that allowed his parents, a biracial couple, to legally marry and form his family. Partly for this reason, he views his advocacy is not just for gay rights, but a continued push for equal rights that go beyond the gridiron. Ayanbadejo has also clarified that the players he is in discussions with are not just NFL players, but in other sports as well.
It should be noted that the NFL, NBA, or MLB, three of the most prominent American sports leagues, has never had an openly gay active player. While public sentiment is rumbling towards acceptance of the LGBT community in many aspects of society, there is still plenty of resistance and anti-gay sentiment embedded in our sports culture. For one or more professional athletes to come out as an active player, it wouldn’t just be a monumental day for those individuals, it would be a landmark moment in American history.
The historical significance and the pressure that comes with it is perhaps what is most admirable about Brendon Ayanbadejo’s leadership. He is the rare athlete that is brave enough to speak to both his beliefs and that of the greater good. An intelligent, articulate and well-spoken person, Ayanbadejo embraces the prospect of being the “face” of a cultural movement. Only time will tell what changes actually occur, but the influence of his seminal dialogue cannot be ignored and demonstrate the power of an individual to act as a positive agent of change.