Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendan Ayanbadejo. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Super Bowl XLVII is being billed as the Harbaugh Bowl: the battle between Jim and John Harbaugh, head coaches, respectively, of the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens. It will also be played by two NFL teams connected directly and indirectly to the struggles for LGBT rights. Read that last sentence again, and appreciate for a moment how far fighters for LGBT equality have traveled.
In August, the 49ers became the first NFL franchise to film an “It Gets Better” video to combat anti-LGBT bullying in schools. The team was compelled to produce the public service announcement when a diehard Bay Area fan named Sean Chapin initiated a Change.org petition asking the 49ers to break the NFL’s conspicuous silence. He received 16,000 online signatures and the team responded. Several players were featured with the most stirring comments coming from hard-hitting safety Donte Whitner who said, “The San Francisco 49ers are proud to join ItGetsBetter.org, to let all LGBT teens know that it gets better. On behalf of the entire 49ers organization, we are on your side, and we promise it gets better.”
As for the Ravens, they are the team of linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, who is part of a new wave of outspoken athletes for LGBT rights. Ayanbadejo aided the successful referendum for marriage equality in the state of Maryland in November while braving disagreements from teammates, criticism on sports radio and even a Maryland state delegate requesting that team chief executive Steve Biscotti “take the necessary action, as a National Football League owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employees.” But the Ravens took no such action and Ayanbadejo hasn’t stopped expressing himself, and won’t stop this coming week.
After Baltimore beat the New England Patriots to go to the Super Bowl, the Ravens linebacker typed out what he is calling his “Jerry Maguire e-mail” at 3:40 am. He wrote to the founder of New Yorkers for Marriage Equality, Brian Ellner, and the political director for media mogul Russell Simmons, Michael Skolnik. Ayanbadejo’s message was that the Super Bowl, the shiniest, most watched event in all of North American sports, could be a remarkable podium to make the case against homophobia. He wrote, “Is there anything I can do for marriage equality or anti-bullying over the next couple of weeks to harness this Super Bowl media?”