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article imageNFL players fight for free-speech in support of same-sex marriage

By Darren Weir     Sep 9, 2012 in Sports
Baltimore - Teammates, the head of the NFL Players Association, fellow players and fans are all coming to the defence of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo for his right to support same-sex marriage.
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendan Ayanbadejo is one of the few professional athletes to take a public stand in support of same-sex marriage, but after a Maryland politician suggested the team should shut him up, other NFL players are rushing to his defence.
Ayanbadejo has spoken out about the issue for several years and even filmed a video for Equality Maryland last year, in the run-up to a state vote on same-sex marriage, that passed in February.
But State legislator and minister, Emmett C. Burns seems to think players should be seen and not heard. In a letter to Ravens team owner Steve Bisciotti on August 29, Burns says it is "inconceivable" that Ayanbadejo "would publicly endorse same-sex marriage, specifically as a Raven Football player."
He writes,"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."
Ayanbadejo responded on Twitter, saying, "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!!!"
Baltimore Ravens Brendan Ayanbadejo tweet
Baltimore Ravens Brendan Ayanbadejo tweet
Brendan Ayanbadejo
Vikings punter Chris Kluwe jumped into the fray, tweeting, "It honestly baffles me, how someone in this day and age can think stifling someone's right to free speech is somehow ok."
Vikings Chris Kluwe tweets
Vikings Chris Kluwe tweets
Chris Kluwe
But Kluwe saved his toughest language for an article he penned for Deadspin, addressed to Burns. "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."
After running down the political arguments for why Ayanbadejo should be allowed to speak out, like the US First Amendment, Kluwe says, "why do you hate freedom? Why do you hate the fact that other people want a chance to live their lives and be happy, even though they may believe in something different than you, or act different than you? How does gay marriage, in any way shape or form, affect your life? If gay marriage becomes legal, are you worried that all of a sudden you'll start thinking about penis?"
Other players have come to Ayanbadejo's defence. The NFL Players Association also had something to say about it. The Baltimore Sun says NFLPA President Domonique Foxworth said he was diappointed in Burns letter. “I don’t know if I can come up with a strong enough word, but his request was asinine.” Foxworth adds, "but I was encouraged by the support that Brendon received from the football world, from Chris Kluwe from the Vikings -- his letter on Deadspin may not be appropriate for the newspaper, but it was nice to see that support -- and the support that the Ravens have given him was great.” “Even the fans were really supportive of him.”
As for the Ravens franchise, President Dick Cass told BaltimoreRavens.com, “We support Brendon’s right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment.” Ayanbadejo says Cass also told him personally that the club supports him.
In an op-ed piece he wrote for the Huffington Post in 2009, the Ravens linebacker says he believes in the issue, because “I see the big picture.”“There was a time when women didn't have rights, black people didn't have rights, and right now, gay rights is a big issue and it has been for a long time. And so we're slowly chopping down the barriers to equality. We have some minority rights we have to get straight and some gay rights, then we'll be on our way.”
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