NFL player responds to lawmaker’s demand that he stops supporting marriage equality

Brendon Ayanbadejo, a linebacker for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, on Friday responded to a Maryland lawmaker who demanded that he “cease and desist” his support for marriage equality, and expressed surprise that a politician would try to stifle his free speech.

Last week, Maryland General Assembly Delegate Emmett C. Burns sent a letter to Ravens’ owner Steve Bisciotti, denouncing Ayanbadejo’s support of same-sex marriage, requesting that the Ravens “take the necessary action … to inhibit such expressions from your employees.”

Burns’ complaint is in response to Ayanbadejo’s ongoing support for marriage equality; last year, Ayanbadejo appeared in a video campaign of high profile Marylanders aimed at building support for same-sex marriage legislation in Maryland. The bill eventually passed in the state legislature, was signed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, and will now be decided by voters in a ballot referendum on November 6.

In his letter, written on official Maryland House of Delegates stationary, Burns wrote:

“As a Delegate to the Maryland General Assembly and a Baltimore Ravens Football fan, I find it inconceivable that one of your players, Mr. Brendon Ayanbadejo, would publicly endorse Same-Sex marriage, specifically as a Raven Football player. Many of my constituents and your football supporters are appalled and aghast that a member of the Ravens Football Team would step into this controversial divide and try to sway public opinion one way or another. Many of your fans are opposed to such a view and feel it has no place in a sport that is strictly for pride, entertainment and excitement. I believe Mr. Ayanbadejo should concentrate on football and stand clear of diving the fan base.

“I am requesting that you take the necessary action, as a National Football Franchise Owner, to inhibit such expressions for your employee and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions. I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing.”

Ayanbadejo said Friday that he is surprised that a lawmaker would suggest taking away his right to free speech.

“I was surprised. Just what our country was founded on, for someone to try to take that away from me, I was pretty surprised that something like that would come up, especially from a politician,” Ayanbadejo said.

Ayanbadejo, 36, was one of the first pro athletes to stand up for marriage equality publicly when, in an April 2009 column in the Huffington Post, he wrote: “If Britney Spears can party it up in Vegas with one of her boys and go get married on a whim and annul her marriage the next day, why can’t a loving same-sex couple tie the knot?”

“Its an equality issue,” Ayanbadejo said. “I see the big picture.”

Burns, a Democrat from Baltimore County, is founder and pastor of Rising Sun First Baptist Church, and has been a frequent and high-profile critic of same-sex marriage. When President Barack Obama expressed his support for marriage equality, Burns said he would drop his support for Obama’s candidacy.

A statement released by the Ravens team president Dick Cass, said, “We support Brendon’s right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment.”

Update: Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe — also a supporter of marriage equality — has his own harsh words for Burns, and in an open letter posted on Deadspin, called Burns an “Ass*ole” and his comments a “colossal foot in mouth cluster*uck.” Read more

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