If all that Emmert C. Burns Jr. wanted was more attention then he has succeeded. If the Baltimore politician was trying to forward his political beliefs, silence All-Pro NFL linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo or persuade the Baltimore Ravens to infringe on the First Amendment rights of an employee then he seems to have failed, with your attention.
A democrat in the Maryland House of Delegates representing Baltimore County's District 10, Burns sent a letter to the Baltimore Ravens to express his dismay that a member of the team had been voicing his support for same-sex marriage, as reported by WBALTV, Yahoo! Sports and other outlets. In a letter dated August 29, 2012 and addressed to Ravens owner Steve Biscotti, Burns writes "I find it inconceivable that one of your players, Mr. Brendon Ayanbadejo, would publicly endorse Same-Sex marriage, specifically as a Ravens 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," wrote Burns, "and try to sway public opinion one way or another."
According to WBALTV, Burns became upset when he learned that Ayanbadejo had contributed a pair of Ravens tickets to a fundraiser for Marylanders for Marriage Equality. After expressing his dismay at Ayanbadejo's actions in his letter, Burns then asked the Ravens to silence the 36-year-old veteran.
"I am requesting that you take the necessary action, as a National Football League Owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employees 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."
By saying that he knows of no other NFL players who have "done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing," Burns reveals only a lack of awareness of the league and the players that make it live and breath and tackle. Moreover, his statement shows that he certainly hasn't been paying attention to Ayanbadejo, who joined the Ravens for the 2008 season and wrote about his support of same-sex marriage for The Huffington Post in 2009.
Maybe I am a man ahead of my time. However, looking at the former restrictions on human rights in our country starting with slavery, women not being able to vote, blacks being counted as two thirds of a human, segregation, no gays in the military (to list a few) all have gone by the wayside. But now here in 2009 same sex marriages are prohibited. I think we will look back in 10, 20, 30 years and be amazed that gays and lesbians did not have the same rights as every one else. How did this ever happen in the land of the free and the home of the brave? Are we really free?
Ayanbadejo has been consistent in his stance and his support of equality for all, filming a public service announcement for Marylanders for Marriage Equality in 2011. He was a Ravens player at the time but this far more visible gesture -- relative to the tickets he donated -- went unnoticed by Burns.
Further proving Burns wrong is the reality that support of LGBT causes in the NFL is far from limited to Ayanbadejo. In August 2012, the San Francisco 49ers became the first NFL team to participate in the "It Gets Better" program, helping create a public service announcement intended to inspire and comfort LGBT adolescents.
In 2011, the San Francisco Giants became the first MLB team to make an "It Gets Better" PSA. Shortly after the Giants' video was released, the Baltimore Orioles became the second MLB team to join the "It Gets Better" campaign. Did Burns take note? Or did a midsummer attack against the woeful 2011 Orioles not provide quite the same platform as one against the Baltimore Ravens on the eve of their season opener?
In the days following Burns' letter, Ayanbadejo has addressed his views and the reaction they elicited on Twitter.
Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe is another NFL player who exercises his right to free speech on Twitter -- and in his "Out Of Bounds" blog at TwinCities.com. After reading a story about Burns' letter to the Ravens at NFL.com, Kluwe fired off several tweets lambasting the politician.
WARNING: Tweets contain strong language.
If you follow Kluwe on Twitter (and you probably should) then you likely know that he is a supporter of Minnesotans For Equality and engaged in just the sort of behavior that Burns finds "inconceivable" and limited to Ayanbadejo.
Should the Vikings expect to hear from Michele Bachmann?
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The 27-year-old U.S. Olympic soccer player spoke frankly about her sexuality in <a href="http://www.out.com/travel-nightlife/london/2012/07/02/fever-pitch" target="_hplink">an interview with <em>Out</em> magazine</a>, saying she is a lesbian and in a committed relationship with a woman. While her statement may seem bold, the 27-year-old Rapinoe told Out's Jerry Portwood that she'd just never been asked directly. "I think they were trying to be respectful and that it's my job to say, 'I'm gay,' she said. "Which I am. For the record: I am gay." Rapinoe, who's been dating her girlfriend -- identified in the magazine only as an Australian soccer player -- for three years, also took time to chat about homophobia in sports and, more specifically, female athletes' perspective on the subject. "I feel like sports in general are still homophobic, in the sense that not a lot of people are out," she said. Still, she added, "In female sports, if you're gay, most likely your team knows it pretty quickly. It's very open and widely supported. For males, it's not that way at all. It's sad."
In 2007, Amaechi -- who played at Penn State and spent five seasons in the NBA with Orlando --<a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/story?id=2757105" target="_hplink"> identified himself as a gay man</a> in his book "Man in the Middle." Four years later, Amaechi <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/14/john-amaechi-kobe-bryant_n_849231.html" target="_hplink">criticized Kobe Bryant after the five-time NBA champion used a gay slur</a> during a game. "There's only one contemporary meaning for that," he said. "We have to take it as unacceptable as a white person screaming the N-word at a black person. I can tell you that I've been called a f--got fairly routinely, and yet people seem to hold off on calling me the N-word. We've got to mirror that progress."
Thomas's decision to <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/dec/19/gay-groups-applaud-gareth-thomas" target="_hplink">confirm his sexuality</a> while still an active rugby player was praised by LGBT rights advocates as a brave move. Though others have since followed suit, Thomas hoped people who eventually consider his sexuality as irrelevant. "What I choose to do when I close the door at home has nothing to do with what I have achieved in rugby," he told <em>The Guardian</em>. "I'd love for it, in 10 years' time, not to even be an issue in sport, and for people to say: 'So what?'"
The Prague-born tennis pro, who came out as bisexual in 1981, is credited with having "expanded the dialogue on issues of gender and sexuality in sports,"<a href="http://espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/00016378.html" target="_hplink"> according to ESPN</a>. "Martina was the first legitimate superstar who literally came out while she was a superstar," Donna Lopiano, executive director of the Women's Sports Foundation, said. "She exploded the barrier by putting it on the table. She basically said this part of my life doesn't have anything to do with me as a tennis player. Judge me for who I am."
The Olympic diver, who took home the gold medal in 2008 in the ten meter platform, revealed his sexuality in an <a href="http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2008/05/23/1211183107597.html" target="_hplink">exclusive interview</a> with <em>The Sydney Morning Herald</em>. Mitcham, then 20 years old, credited partner Lachlan with helping him battle depression and emotional burnout in the years before his Olympic triumph.
Known as much for his colorful fashion sense as his slick moves on the ice, Weir faced intense media scrutiny over his sexual orientation before<a href="http://www.afterelton.com/people/2011/01/johnny-weir-finally-really-out" target="_hplink"> finally coming out</a> in his recently published memoirs. "With people killing themselves and being scared into the closet, I hope that even just one person can gain strength from my story," Weir said at the time. "A lot of the gays got downright angry about my silence. But pressure is the last thing that would make me want to 'join' a community."
Billie Jean King
Unfortunately, the tennis pro's<a href="http://lesbianlife.about.com/od/lesbiansinsports/p/BillieJeanKing.htm" target="_hplink"> 1981 outing</a> was not her choice; she was forced out when her former female lover sued her for palimony and nearly lost all of her commercial endorsements as a result. But her career was far from over, and in 2000, she became the first open lesbian ever to coach an Olympic team.
The Australian hockey champ, who retired this year, came out earlier this week in an emotional YouTube video, <em>The Sydney Morning Herald</em> <a href="http://www.smh.com.au/national/playing-it-straight-20111022-1mdj3.html" target="_hplink">is reporting</a>. "I regret immensely that I wasn't strong enough as a leader, that I didn't step up when I was playing and share this about myself,'' he is quoted as saying in the video.
Originally from Quebec, the Canadian hockey champ<a href="http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/othersports/2003817138_goodread02.html" target="_hplink"> decided to stop </a>hiding her sexual orientation while still a freshman at Harvard University. "If they weren't going to accept me on the team," she told <em>The Seattle Times</em>, "I wasn't going to stay."
In 1995, the Olympic diving hero (who <a href="http://www.outsports.com/local/2006/0417louganis.htm" target="_hplink">became the first man</a> in 56 years to win two gold medals in diving when he captured the platform and the springboard events in Los Angeles 11 years earlier) shocked fans when he decided<a href="http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Greg-Louganis-Comes-Out-on-The-Oprah-Show-Video" target="_hplink"> to come out</a> as both gay and HIV-positive on <em>The Oprah Winfrey Show</em>. "People who were close to me -- family and friends -- they knew about my sexuality," he said in 2006. "I just did not discuss my personal life, my sexuality with the media. That was my policy."
Formerly of the San Diego Padres, baseball player Billy Bean came out in 1999, five years after he retired. Now, however, he says he has regrets about ending his baseball career after just six seasons. "If I had only told my parents, I probably would have played two or three more years and understood that I could come out a step at a time, not have to do it in front of a microphone," he<a href="http://outsports.com/jocktalkblog/2011/09/27/moment-7-major-leaguer-billy-bean-comes-out-still-regrets-retiring/" target="_hplink"> is quoted by</a> Outsports as saying. "And I was completely misguided. I had no mentor. I think that's where the responsibility comes in for people who have lived that experience, and we take for granted that everybody's adjusted and gets it."
The pro-golfer, who won 13 events during her 21 years, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/21/sports/golf/21ROSI.html" target="_hplink">came out in</a> a 2004 <em>New York Times</em> editorial. "You see, my sponsor, Olivia, is one of the world's largest and most respected companies catering to lesbian travelers, and this represents the first time a company like this has sponsored a professional athlete -- a gay professional athlete," Jones wrote. "Inherent in this sponsorship is my coming out. It's a bit of a curiosity, because I've never been in the closet. For more than 25 years, I've been very comfortable with the fact that I'm gay...I have never, until now, felt the need to discuss it in the news media."
The champion rider, who competed in six consecutive Olympics, says he's never had much of a problem with being open about his sexual orientation in the equestrian world. Still, as he he<a href="http://www.outsports.com/olympics/2004/0804robertdover.htm" target="_hplink"> told Outsports</a>, "I did not connect my social life to my work life for many years, and while I never ran away from the issue of my homosexuality, I must admit that I had no real interest in bringing attention to it, especially with the press...what changed everything was a combination of meeting my soul-mate Robert Ross, whom I was so proud to be with that I wanted everyone to know, and the AIDS epidemic which affected so many people dear to me."
The South African-born commissioner of World Team Tennis <a href="http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/s_445847.html" target="_hplink">has also been</a> the partner of Billie Jean King for more than 20 years. She also credits King with encouraging her to pursue her career. "I had an opportunity to hit tennis balls with Billie Jean King when she was in South Africa when I was 11," <a href="http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2011/jul/17/17kloss1o1/" target="_hplink">she said</a>. "She encouraged me to pursue my dream, and I did."