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Politician out of bounds for criticism of Ayanbadejo

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Ron Borges

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Posted Sept. 18, 2012 @ 4:03 p.m. ET
By Ron Borges

Brendon Ayanbadejo is more than a standup linebacker. He’s a standup guy. Too bad you can’t say the same about Maryland state legislator Emmett C. Burns, Jr.

Ayanbadejo has long been an advocate for progressive social issues, including teaching theatre in Los Angeles elementary schools three days a week while at UCLA after cutbacks shut down arts programs in many L.A. schools. He also helped form an organization that worked to promote diversity in higher education and has long been a public advocate for the legalization of same-sex marriage and equal opportunity for gays.

This all came to light after the three-time Pro Bowl special-teams selection and present Ravens linebacker publicly supported an organization called “Marylanders for Marriage Equality,’’ which is advocating approval of a statewide referendum on a measure passed by Maryland lawmakers in March that would allow same-sex marriage in the state beginning next year.

Public support for controversial social issues was once a hallmark of some of our greatest athletes, but in recent years that has seldom been the case. Ayanbadejo admits that three years ago, when he first went public with his feelings, some of his teammates snickered, although none approached to debate the issue. Then things came to a head after Burns sent a letter to Ravens’ owner Steve Bisciotti on Aug. 29 demanding Biscotti silence his “employee’’ as if he forgot Lincoln freed the slaves.

“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 Bisciotti. “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.

“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.”

What was that, exactly? Being a citizen of a world larger than a locker room? Exercising a right to free speech that thousands of Americans died for? Or was it just that he donated two Ravens tickets to a fundraiser for the advocates of the measure?

Burns claims to have been a fighter in the civil rights movement, and maybe he was, but he must have suffered amnesia at some point since. Freedom of speech is about as fundamental a right as we have. It is the First Amendment to the Constitution for a reason — because it is one of the things that separates us from the thugs who attacked American embassies in the Middle East last week. It is a freedom that includes everyone — pro football players as well as the rest of us.

To his credit, Vikings P Chris Kluwe wrote a public response of support for Ayanbadejo, asking Burns “Do the civil rights struggles of the past 200 years mean absolutely nothing to you?’’

Good question, to which Burns did what politicians do. He changed his story, issuing a statement claiming: “This has been interpreted by some as an attempt to abridge the First Amendment rights of an individual; that’s not what it was.”

When you ask someone’s boss to “inhibit such expressions from your employees and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions,” what else would you call it? Burns was not only wrong in his first statement but a liar in his second. No wonder he’s in politics.

It takes a lot of courage for someone who lives his life in the macho-fueled world of the NFL to take a public stand in favor of gay rights. Frankly, it takes a lot of courage to take a stand on anything, so this is really not about any single issue. It’s about a standup guy put down by a politician who believes in free speech as long as he likes what he hears.

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