When football, same-sex marriage and politics collide
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo is becoming well-known off the field for his support of same-sex marriage.
September 8th, 2012
02:48 PM ET

When football, same-sex marriage and politics collide

In his 10th NFL season, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo is catching more attention for his political views than his special teams talents. And after a Maryland politician slammed his views on same-sex marriage, other NFL players are stepping up to defend Ayanbadejo's freedom of speech.

Ayanbadejo is a vocal supporter of same-sex marriage. He filmed video shorts for Equality Maryland and even wrote about same-sex marriage for the Huffington Post in 2009.

State lawmaker and minister Emmett C. Burns Jr. is a self-described Ravens fan, but in a letter sent to team owner Steve Bisciotti, Burns said it was "inconceivable" that Ayanbadejo was publicly endorsing same-sex marriage.

In the letter, written on August 29 and obtained by Yahoo! Sports, Burns wrote, "Many of my constituents and your football supporters are appalled and aghast that a member of the Ravens Football Team would step into this controversial divide and try to sway public opinion one way or the other. Many of your fans are opposed to such a view and feel it has no place in a sport that is strictly for pride, entertainment and excitement.

"I am requesting that you take the necessary action, as a National Football Franchise Owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employee and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions. I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing."

In March, Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley legalized same-sex marriage in Maryland, but the law doesn't take effect until 2013.

Amid the political convention-themed tweets filling his profile, Ayanbadejo responded on his Twitter page with this: "Football is just my job it's not who I am. I am an American before anything. And just like every American I have the right to speak!"

On Friday, he made a statement thanking Burns: "I'd have to thank him more than anything for bringing national attention to the issue." He also expressed surprise that Burns would try to silence him.

Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe wrote a letter for Deadspin. Laced with graphic language and disgust, he berated Burns for his views.

"Your vitriolic hatred and bigotry make me ashamed and disgusted to think that you are in any way responsible for shaping policy at any level," Kluwe wrote. "The views you espouse neglect to consider several fundamental key points, which I will outline in great detail (you may want to hire an intern to help you with the longer words)."

Kluwe went on to address (in the great detail he mentioned) the facets of the First Amendment, Burns' comment about athletes speaking out on issues, freedom in general and how little same-sex marriage would affect Burns' life.

"I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life," Kluwe wrote.

On Saturday, Kluwe published an edited version of the letter on the Twin Cities "Out of Bounds" blog, as well as a response to people complaining about his use of "colorful insults" in the original letter.

"The swearing is there for a reason," he wrote. "What Emmett C. Burns Jr. wrote, what I responded to, was far more disgusting and foul minded than any simple scatological reference or genital mashup."

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley also tweeted in support of Ayanbadejo - even though he's not "pro Raven about anything."

NFL Players Association President Domonique Foxworth told The Baltimore Sun that he was "disappointed" in Burns.

"I don’t know if I can come up with a strong enough word, but his request was asinine," Foxworth told the newspaper. "I think Brendon’s commendable. To step out into the fire and say something controversial, that’s not something that comes lightly."

On Friday, Ayanbadejo told The Baltimore Sun that team president Dick Cass let him know that the Ravens supported Ayanbadejo's ability to voice his opinion, and in a statement, Cass let everyone know that "We support Brendon's right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment" as an organization that doesn't discriminate.

What do you think about the dueling letters and Ayanbadejo's support of same-sex marriage that started it all? Let us know in the comments below.

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Filed under: Football • Politics • Pro football • Same-sex marriage • Sports
soundoff (768 Responses)
  1. Alex

    The Maryland legislature should censure rep Burns for trying infringe on a Marylander's freedom of speech. Burns is a far greater risk to democracy and the US than anything Ayanbandejo said or advocated.

    September 8, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  2. David

    Take the gas ppe.

    September 8, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Wolf

    Hmm... the people who were screaming "Freedom of Speech" during the Chick-fil-A fiasco are eerily silent all of a sudden. Double standard much?

    September 8, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • DK

      An individual speaking his mind is different than a company imposing the beliefs of one man on its employees.

      September 8, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • MediaSells

      Nobody was saying they didn't have the freedom of speech at any point in time. They were saying that their idiotic belief system has no place in modern society. There's a difference between "speech" and hot-aired bigotry.

      September 9, 2012 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
    • vilap

      @ DK: Why? I thought corporations are (sic) people?

      September 9, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kelly51

      Seriously? People aren't silent it more like just sick and tired of watching our world go to h3ll in a handbasket. We are just going to continue to be what we consider normal human beings that believe in small government, Jesus Christs good news and the distaste of the liberal lefts views. They can speak all they want. It doesn't make what morally wrong, right.

      September 9, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Molly Winston

      Freedom of speech includes Mr. Cathy's remarks. There are consequences to freedom of speech though. If someone says something mean, offensive, or bigoted, they should expect that people will respond accordingly. In the case of Mr. Cathy, some people stopped patronizing his restaurants. People can say pretty much anything they want, but freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. I hope this clarifies things for you.

      September 10, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
  4. fooloof

    Actually, Kluwe's letter was inappropriate to the extent that it was insulting and filled with profanity, not to mention disrepectful of the state legislator. This is all in view of the fact that Kluwe plays for the NFL. I agree with everything he said, but it was still behavior that could have embarrassed the league. To that extent, he could have easily been punished by Goodell.

    September 8, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • jerslan

      As opposed to Burns attempts to stifle free speech? His apparent lack of respect for the long history of political activism in sports (especially in matters relating to civil rights)? In what way was he deserving of respect? Just because he's a State Legislator? That alone doesn't guarantee respect, unless we're going back to a class-based society where Legislators and other Government Officials are treated as near-Royalty above the rest of us (where respect is dictated by law).

      Given the pure insanity of Burns' letter, he got the same amount of respect from Kluwe that he showed to Ayanbadejo. Respect is a two-way street. Unless you respect others, others have no reason to respect you.

      September 8, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Kluwe's letter was the most disrespectful letter I have ever heard sent to a public official. I loved it!

      September 8, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • tyburn

      It was disrespectful because he doesn't respect him.

      September 9, 2012 at 2:53 am | Report abuse |
    • sam stone

      That state legislator deserves no respect.

      September 9, 2012 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
    • MediaSells

      No amount of swears or colourful language is more offensive then stifling our first amendment. The problem is you can't drive home the point of this conversation when you're civil because you're not dealing with civil people – sometimes you need to speak in terms that they can get their tiny brains around.

      September 9, 2012 at 10:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Michele

      Since when does a person have to show respect to a legislator? It's the other way around! They work for US and as such they should bow to our demands and for our respect, NOT the other way around!

      September 9, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
  5. vancouveral

    Does this lawmaker think sports personalities should be seen but not heard? Does he think they are all too dumb to have anything worthwhile to say. It is incredible that this Burns guy thinks his Ante-deluvian views are still in play and that he can shut people up with old style threats. Tim Tebow makes Christians look ridiculous with his football field antics and comments but this is America and freedom of speech is a cherished right.

    September 8, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Alex

    My only regret in not living in Burns' district is that I can't help vote him out of office. How dare he attempt to get an employer to pressure an employee to stop expressing himself, as guaranteed by the First Amendment. This man has no place in political office in Maryland or anywhere else in the US if he doesn't not understand the most basic principles of our nation.

    September 8, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  7. doug barrington

    So does Rev. Burns also take umbrage with Tim Tebow, whose publicly expressed beliefs and well televised pre-game prayers explicitly promote Chirstianity? If not, Burns is a hypocrite. And we know what the Bible says about that.

    September 8, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leonardo

      what does it say about that?

      September 8, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Roy Munson

      Uh...It's AGAINST it!

      September 9, 2012 at 12:04 am | Report abuse |
  8. sally

    I have a new respect for two football players, Ayanbadajo who made a voice and Kluwe who supports him. First Amendment rights are basic here and then gay rights. Why should not Brendan speak out. Who is this Burns who thinks he has some standing to shut someone else from speaking. Kluwe is right; it is only the fact of athletes and coaches speaking up that ended discrimination in sports. These two players are right on and I am grateful they had courage to speak up. Shame on you, Burns. Get to know gay people. They are just like you (or, hopefully, not)

    September 8, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  9. bobcat (in a hat)©

    @ banasy

    Hello again. I just took a look at the other thread and noticed something was obviously said detrimentaaly about me. It seems to have been deleted, so could you fill me in ?
    But in any case, some people must release their pent up frustrations in one manner or the other. In this case it seems it was illustrated the same way a 6 year old would throw a tantrum when absolutely "nobody" will pay attention to them. It sad when a grown up person, who professes to have so much knowledge, has to stoop to those levels.

    September 8, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • bobcat (in a hat)©

      That's detrimentally

      September 8, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      He hoped that you and your first responder crew got thrown into GITMO like the Bridas employees.
      You say my anwser to that.

      September 8, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • bobcat (in a hat)©

      @ banasy

      Yeah, I saw your answer, and thank you. It is beyond me how anyone could be that jealous of a person that they stoop so low as to wish bad tidings on someone. It shows me that they do value life at any level. But than again, one must have a life before they are able appreciate what it is.

      September 8, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
  10. No one

    The world is closing in on you, pre-rapture yourself and escape, the rest of us will wait here for the coming apocalypse.

    September 8, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Michael

    Love is so powerfully and beautiful. Why would any one hate anyone based on who they were in love with. Maybe I am just getting old but true love is just that.

    September 8, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  12. TJ

    Ya gotta love it... CNN won't let me post anything regarding this article, yet I see others posting hateful nonsense with no problem. Go figure... CNN, limiting free speech like Mao on steroids.

    September 8, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • RoadRunner, Albuquerque, NM

      Same with me TJ. This is a live example of the powers that be, abusing their power to silence the side of the story they don't want out. They do this more often to me than I would like to think, b/c of my point of view.

      September 8, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bobby

      You are free to say whatever you want on your website. You may also prevent anyone you want from
      posting on your website

      September 8, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Troy

      You may have posted something that was considered extremely offensive by other readers and upon review CNN agreed... but more importantly – posting is not free speech. This site is not public domain... freedom of speech has nothing to do with posting comments...

      September 8, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • sqeptiq

      I think it's just lousy technology. About every third or fourth post of mine disappears into the ether even when I say the most innocuous things.

      September 8, 2012 at 10:12 pm | Report abuse |
  13. juliemac

    Here is a black man, that can remember segregated water fountains and being forced to sit at the rear of the bus, trying to push down on some one just wanting the same freedoms that we all enjoy.
    The player spoke up, using strong language, yes. But I am going to guess he is as ticked off as many Americans are at the narrow minded people that seem to have come to power, and LOVE to ply it.
    Power corrupts remember.

    September 8, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  14. lisa hoang

    I totally agree support and agree with Brendon, the gay people married do no harm to nobody why people so mean to gay. As a parent, we can not make our own children who to love and who to married , why the government dare to deciede for the citizen who they love and who to married. Also, the church have nothing to do with our love and our life, Jesus must not be Hate, must be love and belove. Whoever oppose the gay is need to be go to hell.

    September 8, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fan of Ms. Hoang

      We couldn't agree more!

      September 8, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Report abuse |
  15. t3chsupport

    Kluwe's letter is well written, and hilarious.
    If you don't like the profanity (but especially if you do), Google up the version WITH PONIES, wherein he redacts his obscenities and makes it far more friendly for everyone.

    Why is no one talking about trying to impeach Burns for using his position in order to stifle free speech?

    September 8, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      I just read the letter...the reference to fromunda totally had me cracking up.
      I am a Bear's fan and The Vikings are one of our bitter rivals...but as of today I am a Chris Kluwe fan.

      September 8, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
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