The National Football League, known for its macho swagger, has no openly gay players, although a small number have come out of the closet after retiring. But tolerance of sexual orientation has entered the Super Bowl hype as two players for the opposing teams have taken contrasting positions, Mike Biggz writes.
By Mike Biggz
The NFL’s Super Bowl may seem like an unlikely venue for a debate over gay rights, but comments from players of the opposing teams, the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers, have put a spotlight on the question of football’s tolerance regarding sexual orientation.
Baltimore’s linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo has spoken out forcefully in favor of marriage equality and gay rights, while San Francisco’s cornerback Chris Culliver recently objected to having gay players on his team or in the NFL.
“I don’t do the gay guys man,” Culliver told shock jock Artie Lange, according to Yahoo! Sports. “I don’t do that. No, we don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do. … Can’t be with that sweet stuff. Nah…can’t be…in the locker room man. Nah.”
Yet, while Culliver was outspoken about his opposition to gays in NFL locker rooms, Ayanbadejo muted his public support for gay rights in pre-Super Bowl comments to the news media.
“Actually, I talked about that so I don’t want to keep touching on that subject,” Ayanbadejo said, indicating that he preferred focusing on preparations for the game. “Obviously, we’re at the Super Bowl and it’s the pinnacle of sports in the United States so I just really want to focus.”
Later, responding to another question about his support for gay rights, Ayanbadejo was more expansive. “Equality is a relevant issue,” he said. “Whether you decide to speak out about it or not, it’s going to affect everybody one way or another. Hopefully I’ll be able to win a Super Bowl and do the entire media circuit so I can talk about these things.”
After the Ravens won the AFC championship, Ayanbadejo sent e-mails to some influential supporters of gay rights, asking “Is there anything I can do for marriage equality or anti-bullying over the next couple of weeks to harness this Super Bowl media”?
Ayanbadejo, a heterosexual father of two, first waded into the issue of same-sex unions by writing a supportive opinion piece for Huffington Post. He also has spoken out against bullying.
His comments in support of a same-sex marriage bill in the Maryland legislature prompted state delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr. to complain to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti. However, the bill passed anyway and Ayanbadejo has refused to be silenced on the topic, despite his reticence at “media day.”
I wrote an article about Ayanbadejo a few months back and hoped he would take advantage of the intense media interest in the Super Bowl to highlight his pro-gay and anti-bullying positions. At this point, I’m not sure exactly what Ayanbadejo will do. He could wear a sticker on his helmet or a patch on his uniform, although NFL rules discourage such messaging unless it has prior approval.
Ayanbadejo has indicated he would meet with New Orleans lawmakers, who got in touch with him after hearing his position on gay rights. Win or lose at the Super Bowl, he also plans to go on the Ellen DeGeneres show to discuss these issues further.
And even though I don’t want his team to win the Super Bowl (sorry, I’m rooting for my home-team 49ers), I am proud of this man for standing up for the cause of gay rights and seeing the importance of this struggle.
As for the 49ers – despite the comments of cornerback Culliver – the team has joined in the campaign for tolerance, as the first NFL to do an “It Gets Better” public service announcement. Though Super Bowl ads are famously expensive, this intensely watched sporting event would make for a perfect opportunity to broadcast another PSA.
Super Bowl commercials are often more talked about than the game itself. And considering that in the last few years, I’ve seen some hyper-masculine, offensive and homophobic-laced spots where men are criticized for not being manly enough, a pro-gay/anti-bullying PSA would be valuable.
I hope in the future more NFL teams and players will join this crusade – and that we’ll soon see the first openly gay NFL player in the league.
Mike Biggz is a technical producer at Pacifica’s “Flashpoints” program, based in Berkeley, California.