ABOVE PHOTO: Brendon Ayanbadejo.
By Mike Bruton
Brendon Ayanbadejo is brave.
The Baltimore Ravens linebacker is not showing the kind of garden variety bravery that we often mention blithely like a wronged worker standing up to his/her boss. No, this is gut-wrenching bravery like running into a burning building.
Ayandbadejo is standing firmly in favor of same-sex marriage and gay rights and is doing so as a member of one of the most traditionally homophobic fraternities in America – The National Football League.
There have been gay players in professional sports as long as the games have been in existence but are we on the verge of seeing a gay player come out of the closet.
Gay rights has jumped into the American consciousness with unprecedented acceptance since President Barack Obama led a chorus of leaders into publicly denouncing discrimination against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) people and a sprinkling of states legalized same sex marriage.
But there is still a stubborn resistance – the U.S. Supreme Court is dealing with the issue presently – but that’s disquiet is nothing compared to affirmatively supporting homosexuality in the realm to professional sports, especially in the training rooms that is a second home to players from the NFL, NBA, NHL and major league baseball.
Nevertheless, the issue of gay rights has cracked the veneer of the sports establishment and since the homophobic remarks spewed by San Francisco defensive back Chris Culliver during Super Bowl week and the wave of similar opinions offered by other pro athletes.
The words “gay rights” are being said out loud from the owners’ skybox, to the front office to the locker room and it’s scaring the hell out of the sports establishment.
Evidence of this fear popped up last month during the NFL combine, the annual event in Indianapolis where several hundreds of the best football prospects in the country are examined physically, mentally and psychologically by coaches and player personnel managers to establish whether they are fit to play in the league.
Nick Kasa, a tight end from the University of Colorado, revealed that he had been asked by a member of the front office of an NFL team about his sexual preference.
“That’s definitely not an appropriate question,” said Ayanbadejo, who has a son but is constantly having his sexuality challenged by homophobes due to his advocacy for gay rights. “Looking back some 14 years ago when I went through all my combine prep and every day I tried to think about what kind of questions they asked me. Now they ask you if you have a girlfriend or a wife or a fiancée.
“They asked those kinds of questions (back in 1999) but they never asked in a way where they were questioning my sexual orientation. It’s definitely inappropriate and it shouldn’t be happening.”
Yet it is. It’s happening because the barons of this multi-billion-dollar industry of pro sports are worried about their money. Like generals and admirals claimed that abolishing Don’t-Ask-Don’t Tell would destroy unit cohesion on the battlefield, in backrooms away from the public, coaches are claiming that openly gay players in the locker room would unit cohesion on the playing field.
Race is also a factor because with the exception of hockey, African Americans and Latinos are prevalent in pro sports and those ethic groups are more culturally adverse to homosexuality than whites.
But defensive back Wade Davis, who came out of the closet in 2012 after he retired from the NFL, is saying there are at least four current NFL and NBA players who have come out only to their teammates and we could be closer than we think to having someone come out while he is still playing.
In this group, according to Davis, are three NFL players and one NBA player “who is a starter and a big contributor” to his team. One he says could come out.
“It’s never affected anyone’s performance before,” Ayanbadejo explained. “Players have come out in the past after they retired and they’d been great players while they were playing in the league.
“In this day and age, players still have to stay closeted,” Ayanbadejo said. “You don’t want that dream of being an NFL player to be crushed and (make) it any harder than it already is.”
Runnng back David Kopay was the first NFL player to come out in 1975 after he retired. He later confirmed that Washington Redskins tight end Jerry Smith, who died of AIDS in 1986, was gay.
Kopay was followed by defensive lineman Esera Tuaolo in 2002, Roy Simmons (1992), Davis (2012) and Offensive tackle Kwame Harris, who was forced out in 2013 when he was charged with assault for striking a former boyfriend in a restaurant.
Former NBA and Penn State player John Amaechi came out in his book “Man in the Middle” a couple of years ago and Glenn Burke and Billy Bean are the only two major league baseball players in history to come out after retiring.