Brendon Ayanbadejo was recently the latest defender to be released by the Ravens, becoming yet another salary cap casualty. But even without their crunchy cap situation, Ayanbedejo was a backup linebacker and primarily a special teams player. And while his contributions in both of those roles were valuable, he’s 36 years old, and the Ravens can pay another younger body much less to do the same job(s).
Ayanbedejo knows this, and he fully acknowledged and accepted the reality of the coldness that is the NFL in April during a recent Newsday interview, although he could have selected better words while doing so. But as is often the case with Ayanbadejo, the trajectory — or lack thereof — of his football career isn’t the focus here.
Ayanbadejo is a highly outspoken supporter of gay rights. And since he’s also an NFL player — albeit currently an unemployed one — that means Ayanbadejo is by default a noted voice on a league issue that’s increasingly breaching the great divide, and becoming a subject of mainstream discussion. It can be summarized with this question: when will the NFL have an openly-gay player?
This isn’t just an NFL issue either, although there’s perhaps a greater barrier to break in a football locker room due to the brutal nature of the sport, and the possibility that every team has a few Chris Cullivers. Throughout all the North American professional sports leagues, there’s never been an openly-gay player.
Last week we learned that may be set to change very soon. Mike Freeman reported that a player could be preparing to publicly announce that he’s gay sometime in the next year, and possibly before the start of the 2013 NFL regular season. But he might not be alone.
During what essentially functioned as a public exit interview with the Baltimore Sun, Ayanbadejo said the wheels are in motion to execute much grander plans:
“We’re in talks with a handful of players who are considering it. There are up to four players being talked to right now and they’re trying to be organized so they can come out on the same day together. It would make a major splash and take the pressure off one guy. It would be a monumental day if a handful or a few guys come out.
“Of course, there would be backlash. If they could share the backlash, it would be more positive. It’s cool. It’s exciting. We’re in talks with a few guys who are considering it. The NFL and organizations are already being proactive and open if a player does it and if something negative happens. We’ll see what happens.”
He’s right on all accounts. If this plan is indeed executed, the public discussion and the unfortunate backlash would be significantly multiplied. But as humans, support from friends or family during such a time is crucial, and the players in question would then have plenty. That’s the power of a shared experience.
Judging by the comments I see on other popular NFL blogs whenever a story of this nature is posted (please don’t say anything horrible here now…thx), I don’t think the average football fan — you know, the guy who spends eight hours tailgating while consuming three animals — is ready for an openly-gay player, let alone four.
But if they just represent the vocal, venom-filled minority, I’d love to be wrong about that.