Ayanbadejo, who is already a publicized advocate of the LGBT community, writes the column on the heels of several issues that have brought homosexuality in sport to the forefront of current discourse. Chief among them were the comments San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver made the week before the Super Bowl regarding how he would react to gays in his own locker room.
In a ballsy, but respectable move, Ayanbadejo compares the future crusade of the conceptual breakthrough openly gay athlete to the trials Jackie Robinson faced breaking the MLB’s color barrier.
Just like Jackie, the breakthrough gay athlete will be a courageous individual going it alone in uncharted territory. But, also like Jackie, he will have backup — and hopefully more of it.
One of the seminal moments of Jackie Robinson’s first season with the Brooklyn Dodgers was when teammate Pee Wee Reese put his arm around Jackie during a game and then faced the crowd. The message was clear: teammates are teammates. Brothers. Reese wasn’t a civil rights advocate. But he wasn’t merely a good guy either. Reese was exactly what the codes of sportsmanship expected him to be, someone who knew what was right and did it despite the risks. Simply put, he was an ally.
If you look at the bigger cultural picture, Ayanbadejo has a point. Much like civil rights were the preeminent social issue of mid-20th century America, gay rights issues have burgeoned to the forefront of the present day. And much like the fight for civil rights was fought on the field, so too does Ayanbadejo want to bring the fight to the gridiron, court, rink and diamond.
He calls sports the “last closet in America.”
There are many reasons why no gay athlete has come out in the NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB, most of which are likely to go away with support and acceptance from the straight community. As leaders and even role models for millions of young people across the globe, professional athletes have the ability to fundamentally eliminate prejudice from our sport and live up to the incredible privilege we enjoy.
It’s not just that Ayanbadejo is using is standing to stump for a good cause, but he’s right. He discusses how the country’s largest companies and corporations have set up guidelines for LGBT diversity and inclusion, including the U.S. military, and how sports have done virtually nothing.
The NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA should and can be leaders against discrimination. Whether you’re a commissioner, an athlete, a coach or a fan, your voice will let every kid out there know that there is a place for him or her in sports. We all can be ourselves and still compete with dignity and at the highest level.
Ambitious words from a player who won a Super Bowl four days ago, but commendable all the same.
[USA Today, Getty Images]