My friends, please say hello to Brendon Ayanbadejo.
He played football for UCLA in the late ‘90s. In fact, he was a starting linebacker on the infamous 1998 team, which was a game away from playing for the national title when it got kneecapped by Edgerrin James and Miami in the unfondly remembered “Hurricane Bowl” (so nicknamed both because of the opponent and because the game was postponed for 10 weeks by Hurricane Georges). After a few years in the Canadian Football League, he’s put together a nice little career as a special-teamer in the NFL, having reached the Pro Bowl in that capacity three times. A free-agent deal he signed last year with the Baltimore Ravens has made him a millionaire a couple times over.
In 2009, Ayanbadejo is adding to his résumé a credential considerably more interesting than the foregoing and possibly unprecedented in major American sports: Activist for Gay Rights.
Last April, Ayanbadejo published an essay for The Huffington Post titled “Same Sex Marriages: What’s the Big Deal?” In it he argued for the legality of gay marriage and for gay rights generally.
If Britney Spears can party it up in Vegas with one of her boys and go get married on a whim and annul her marriage the next day, why can't a loving same sex couple tie the knot?... I think we will look back in 10, 20, 30 years and be amazed that gays and lesbians did not have the same rights as every one else. How did this ever happen in the land of the free and the home of the brave?
And earlier this month, Ayanbadejo attended an event held by Equality Maryland, an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) civil rights group. The executive director of Equality Maryland has publicly thanked Ayanbadejo for the support, stating that when someone “like Brendon Ayanbadejo speaks out for marriage equality, scores of people who may not give thought to LGBT issues will hear crucial equality messages from someone they themselves aspire to be.”
Waiting For Gaybreak
To the non-sports fan, this might not seem terribly remarkable. About half of all Americans now favor recognition of same-sex unions, so it’s not like Ayanbadejo is staking out some fringe position here. What’s the big deal indeed?
The big deal, all you askers of rhetorical questions, is that pro football is the most aggro-masculine institution our culture has. By design the game is violent and confrontational. The aesthetics of the NFL – exclusively female cheerleaders, fighter jet flyovers, exclusively male announcing and studio teams, Denis Leary truck commercials – are heteronormative to the point of self-caricature. Even when I’m wearing a tweed jacket with elbow patches and stroking my beard like the bookish man of letters I am, I can’t think of any corner of society less LGBT-hospitable.