Brendan Ayanbadejo #51 of the Baltimore Ravens. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
By Robert Klemko, USA TODAY
OWINGS MILLS, MD - Brendan Ayanbadejo wants to thank the Maryland legislator who wrote a letter to the Baltimore Ravens condemning the linebacker's support of gay marriage.
"I'd have to thank him more than anything for bringing national attention to the issue," Ayanbadejo said Friday.
The Ravens defender has long been one of pro sports' most vocal athletes for same-sex marriage rights in the U.S. In a letter dated Aug. 29, 2012 and addressed to Ravens owner Steve Biscotti, Emmert C. Burns Jr., a democrat in the Maryland House of Delegates, writes that Ayanbadejo should be silenced.
"I find it inconceivable that one of your players, Mr. Brendon Ayanbadejo, would publicly endorse Same-Sex marriage, specifically as a Ravens football player," Burns writes.
"I am requesting that you take the necessary action, as a National Football League Owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employees 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."
Maryland lawmakers appropved in March a measure that would allow same-sex marriage in 2013. The issue will be put to a popular vote this November.
Ayanbadejo, 36, is unique in his vocal support of same-sex marriage as an NFL player, but he says he's surprised a politician would suggest his free speech be suppressed. He says the Ravens have said nothing to him about his stance, but he has received some "high-fives" and "kudos" around the team's headquarters here.
"I was surprised. It's what our country was founded on," he says of his free speech rights. "For somebody to try to take that away from me I was pretty surprised, from a politician especially.
"People get fired for saying the things that the delegate said. People lose their jobs for discrimination."
Should Burns be fired?
"I think that whoever voted for him has their right to vote for who they believe represents their values. And if he represents their values, he's the best person for the job. If Obama represents the best values for the country, he deserves the job."
Obama this year changed his stance on gay marriage, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to support it. Ayanbadejo began vocally supporting the cause in 2008, and says his issue isn't focused on homosexuals.
"It's an equality issue. I see the big picture," he says. "There was a time when women didn't have rights. Black people didn't have rights. Right now, gay rights is a big issue and it's been for a long time. We're slowly chopping down the barriers to equality."
The California high school and UCLA product has been encouraged by the support he's received on Twitter and Facebook. He says fans of the Steelers, Patriots, Bengals, Cowboys have congratulated him, among others. Even non-football fans say they now have a reason to watch and root for Baltimore.
"That feels good," he says. "Ultimately the goal is to be the best country we can be and we're always evolving. We've come a long way and still have a long way to go."