Maryland Delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr. (D-Baltimore County) recently sent a strongly-worded letter to the Baltimore Ravens in response to the activism of linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, who has long supported gay marriage in a public fashion by way of an article for the Huffington Post and a video for the Marylanders for Marriage Equality organization.
Burns doesn't agree. After Ayanbadejo left a pair of tickets to the Ravens' home opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday, September 10 for a Marylanders for Marriage Equality fundraiser, Burns sent a letter to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti in which he laid the veteran out for his beliefs.
"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 the other," Burns wrote, according to the letter, which was obtained and reported by WBAL-TV, and linked by the Washington Post. "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."
In an interesting mixture of church and state, Burns is also the pastor and founder of the Rising Sun First Baptist Church, which is presumably why he's been a longtime opponent of gay marriage. What we don't know is where Rev. Burns gets the nerve to demand that the Ravens censor and censure their player.
Burns asked that the Ravens "inhibit such expressions from your employee and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions."
Burns then said that Ayanbadejo should "concentrate on football and steer clear of dividing the fan base." It is especially hypocritical and cowardly of Burns to insist that Ayanbadejo silence himself if his opinions don't fall in line with the Reverend's, because you can be sure that the first thing Burns himself will fall back on is his own right to free speech.
The Ravens had little to say about the letter, but Ayanbadejo put it very well on his Twiiter account:
As an African-American and Democrat, Burns may be especially appalled that former NFL cornerback Wade Davis, who played in the league for three different teams, recently told SB Nation's Amy K. Nelson that he played football with the secret that he was homosexual. Burns would certainly be further appalled that Davis, who is also a Democrat and an African-American, now works to campaign for Barack Obama, who as you may know, also happens to be a Democrat and an African-American.
Who's being divisive now, Reverend?
And as Burns can't seem to see beyond the limitations of his own ... well, limitations, he's apparently missed a few points. First, through Ayanbadejo is a team employee, there's very little the Baltimore Ravens, the NFL, or any other governing body under which he works can (or should) do to limit his speech as long as he's not going outside the bounds of decency or the law. Second, what passes for "decency" in the NFL has changed a great deal in the last decade, especially as it concerns homosexuality in general.
At the NFLPA's Rookie Premiere in May, several new faces to the league were asked if they would have a problem with an openly gay teammate, and while one can always wonder if the responses would be different if the microphones were turned off, the unanimous response was clear -- today's NFL player doesn't seem to view homosexuality as a stigma or disease.
"I never pay attention to it," former Alabama and current Cleveland Browns running back Trent Richardson said. "They do what they do. I don't have a problem with them. As long as they're playing good football and contributing to the team, I don't have nothing to do with that. It is what it is. I don't have any problem with any sexuality or whatever they've got going on."
Tight end Coby Fleener, who was Andrew Luck's primary target at Stanford and will try to be the same with the Indianapolis Colts, also insisted that what happens on gameday is what really matters.
"As long as they competed on the field and gave it their all in practice, that's all I care about," Fleener said. "It's not something that's at the forefront of football. But especially at Stanford and in the Bay Area, it's something you deal with on a regular basis, more so than anywhere else in the United States.
"So I'm very comfortable with it, whereas in other areas it might not be the norm."
Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin had a more personal experience with the subject - he had a teammate in high school who came out, and had to leave the team as a result.
"He might have stopped playing because of the negative feedback he might have gotten from being that on the football team," Griffin said. "So, I think that's probably why he ended up quitting."
Former NFL running back Ahman Green, who has a gay brother and sister, put the finest point on the matter.
"In our sport, to be honest, I think it would be hard for any guy to come out while he's playing," Green said. "And that's not a happy thing to say. The gay community is just like everybody else, but they're treated differently. It's a double standard. If a guy was gay, he wouldn't come out while he was playing. He knows the possibility of the scrutiny he might face from the locker room, which would be unfair. I am very open-minded. It is what it is. People are born that way. You can't control it. Just like you're white, I'm black. But a lot of people don't think my way. I wish they did, because then there wouldn't be guys who wanted to stay hidden."
The good news is that, when it comes to today's NFL, Burns is as wrong and out of touch as he is everywhere else. But as long as there are people like the good Rev. Burns, who preach hate and encourage the prohibition of ideas that are not his own, people will feel undue shame about things that are as much a part of their being as their race, color, or creed.
And that's the real crime against nature.