Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo is urging fellow athletes to open the door to the sports world, what he calls “the last closet in America,” in order to make it more LGBT-inclusive. In a recent op-ed for USA Today, Ayanbadejo encouraged professional athletes and leagues to stand as leaders against discrimination:
There are many reasons why no gay athlete has come out in the NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB, most of which are likely to go away with support and acceptance from the straight community. As leaders and even role models for millions of young people across the globe, professional athletes have the ability to fundamentally eliminate prejudice from our sport and live up to the incredible privilege we enjoy.
At its best, sports do not discriminate. If you are young or old, tall or short, male or female, gay or straight, all that really matters is how well you play and contribute to your team.
He added, “This is our time and our cause…We need to pave the way.”
The new Super Bowl champion joined The Cycle Thursday afternoon to discuss his position as a straight ally. “If you’re in the minority, you’re not always treated equally,” Ayanbadejo said. “To me, it’s a human rights issue.”
Ayanbadejo also addressed the stereotype athletes face in the sports world. “In our society as a whole, if you’re gay, you’re not as tough as everyone else. You’re playing a machismo sport, so you don’t want to give anyone an inkling you’re not as tough as everyone else.”
He called out several straight allies in the professional sports world, including Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, who are also working to create a safer environment for athletes to come out. “We’re trying to set a culture out there that is against homophobia and is for inclusiveness in sports,” he said.
When asked whether he encountered teammates who disagreed with him on LGBT issues such as marriage equality (last October, fellow Raven Matt Birk penned an op-ed condemning same-sex marriage), Ayanabdejo responded that he dealt with slander from other athletes in the past, but not anymore, which he said showed how progressive the NFL has become.
“It’s not really anybody’s business what your sexuality is. It’s something we shouldn’t even need to talk about, but we have to talk about so we can change the ways that everybody’s been operating and discriminating against the LGBT community.”
Ayanbadejo has long been a vocal advocate for LGBT equality in pro sports, telling msnbc’s Thomas Roberts last September that the “overwhelming majority” of America is in favor of ending discrimination and supports marriage equality. “It’s the right thing to do,” he said.