Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, center, stands with openly gay Maryland state Delegate Mary Washington. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)
When Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo said he hoped this year’s Super Bowl would be a platform to discuss LGBT rights, I don’t think this is exactly what he had in mind. First on media day, San Francisco 49er Chris Culliver was asked by Howard Stern acolyte and living symbol of American declinism Artie Lange if he’d ever accept a gay teammate. Culliver said, “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.” In rapid-response fashion, Culliver then issued the finest, most heartfelt apology a 49er public relations intern ever had to write.
Then two 49ers, Ahmad Brooks and Isaac Sopoaga, denied ever appearing in the team’s much praised anti-LGBT bullying “It Gets Better” Public Service Announcement, despite video evidence to the contrary. Sopoaga said, “I never went, and now someone is using my name.” This pushed “It Gets Better” founder Dan Savage to actually remove the video from its website. After tweeting that the 49er PSA was being taken down, Savage used three hashtags: #homophobia #NFL #horseshit.
As if this weren’t enough vitriol for one week, on Sunday the league will be holding their twenty-fourth annual Super Bowl Gospel Celebration, and for reasons they have refused to comment upon, it is stacked with an all-star cast of anti-gay bloviators. We are talking about religious singers and preachers who have said things that would make Rick Santorum blush.
This is the point where I’m sure people might ask why any of this matters. Well, it matters for a multitude of reasons. First, whether we like it or not, athletes are role models. Complaining about this fact of American life is like complaining that the sky is blue or John Boehner is orange. Therefore it makes a difference if they are modeling inclusion and respect for our LGBT friends and family. As Hudson Taylor, founder of the organization Athlete Ally said in a statement, “Chris Culliver’s comments are disrespectful, discriminatory and dangerous, particularly for the young people who look up to him.”