theGrio’s 100: Brendon Ayanbadejo, NFL linebacker loves marriage equality

Who is Brendon Ayanbadejo?

Oladele Brendon Ayanbadejo, 36, is a linebacker for the NFL‘s Baltimore Ravens. The son of a Nigerian father and Irish-American mother, who was born in Nigera but grew up in Chicago from the age of 3, was signed in 1999 by the Atlanta Falcons as an undrafted free agent after playing college football at UCLA.

A three-time Pro Bowler on special teams, Ayanbedejo previously played for the Chicago Bears and the Miami Dolphins, and before that, in the European NFL and Canadian Football League.

His older brother, fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo, earned a Super Bowl ring with the Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV.

Why is he on theGrio’s 100?

Ayanbadejo has made news off the field for his support of gay rights. He first spoke out in support of same-sex marriage in 2009, and faced ridicule both inside the locker room and online. But Ayanbadejo, who was active in theater and student activism on diversity issues in college, persisted, and last year, he spoke out again, facing off against a Maryland state legislator. Emmert C. Burns Jr., a Democratic lawmaker, wrote to Ravens owner Steve Biscotti, urging him to silence Ayanbadejo.

“I find it inconceivable that one of your players, Mr. Brendon Ayanbadejo, would publicly endorse same-sex marriage, specifically as a Ravens football player,” Burns wrote, adding that he was “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.”

theGrio: Ravens linebacker Brendan Ayanbadejo approves of gay marriage vote

Turns out Ayanbadejo drew Burns’ ire by contributing a pair of Ravens tickets to a fundraiser by a group supporting a bill legalizing gay marriage in the state, which passed in November.

Biscotti stood by his player, and Ayanbadejo simply thanked Burns for “bringing national attention to this issue.”

What’s next for Ayanbadejo?

Ayanbadejo has said he’s proud to be an ambassador for equality for the LGBT community, and that while he hasn’t changed the minds of everyone in his locker room, he’ll keep taking a stand.

He told FoxSports.com:

“The crazy thing about the locker room is that it’s tied to the Bible and religion. A lot of guys, they can’t see past that. … A lot of people really fight me on it. It’s still a discussion I have possibly every day in this locker room where guys just completely disagree and won’t see past that. But on the flip side, dialogue is being made. With dialogue comes understanding. And with understanding comes acceptance. We’ve made strides.”

This Sunday, his Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII. During the run-up to the big game Ayanbadejo used his media platform to bring attention to the gay rights cause.

Follow Brendon Ayanbadejo on Twitter @Bendon310.