One-on-One: An Interview with Brendon Ayanbadejo

We know him as a linebacker and standout special teams player, a three-time Pro-Bowl selection, a Super Bowl XLVII champion, and a recently retired Baltimore Raven. Now, Brendon Ayanbadejo spends his time working for FoxSports, is planning to open his own line of fitness centers, and most importantly, is advocating for equal rights.

He visited McDaniel on Wednesday, Sept. 16 to speak to students and community members about sensitivity and equality as a part of McDaniel’s Inclusive Language Campaign.

Ayanbadejo said that he has always been a part of a diverse community. Having been exposed to the LGBTQ community at a young age living in California, he learned very quickly that people will judge others by what they see on the outside, when in reality they are all equal. It wasn’t until 2009 that he went public with his views, when he wrote a blog post for the Huffington Post expressing his opinion on marriage equality.

“That was my opportunity to tell the world my thoughts in more of a broad spectrum,” he said.

Since then, Ayanbadejo has traveled across the country spreading the word about equal rights. He contributed to the passage of Question 6 (Maryland same-sex marriage referendum), which he believes is the single-most important thing he has done to support this cause thus far.

“We wrote letters and did some things publicly and failed, and then eventually when they got it to popular vote in the state of Maryland, it passed. I was so honored to be a part of the first state that had taken marriage equality to a popular vote. That was a very special moment for me,” he explained.

One of Ayanbadejo’s main goals is to inform people about the impact of derogatory language. Some individuals are deeply offended by such words. He said all we have to do is correct people if we hear anything potentially harmful.

“It doesn’t have to be abrasive or anything, you just give them a heads up,” he said. “So whether you’re saying the r-word for someone that has a mental handicap, or if you’re saying the three-letter f-word, saying the n-word, just let people know that’s not okay.”

That is one of the simple ways we can be advocates for equal rights. Another way we can involve ourselves is through social media.

“One thing is to follow your friends on social media that are gay and encourage them and support them. It has a bigger effect than you would think,” according to Ayanbadejo. He mentioned one individual in particular as an example of him following members of the gay community. Jason Span (called by his Instagram username @gymnastjay) is a former gymnast and a collector of women’s shoes. Ayanbadejo said he follows him and will like Span’s pictures of himself modeling his shoes.

“In turn, there’s a ripple effect in other people,” he explained. If people see that Ayanbadejo likes those types of posts, it may prompt others to follow those same people.

“[If people] see that I’m comfortable doing that, in turn, hopefully they’ll be comfortable to do that.”

Social media also plays a role in spreading the message about equal rights. It allows Ayanbadejo to talk to hundreds of thousands of people at once and discuss his activism.

“It’s a broad stroke. It’s easy and I get to sit there and engage with people and have a conversation that I normally wouldn’t be able to touch. Social media is awesome; it’s a game changer,” he elaborated.

ayan11Ayanbadejo also talked about what colleges can do to combat discrimination against diverse communities. He mentioned that the UCLA athletic program recently pledged to support “It Gets Better,” a campaign to reassure young members of the LGBTQ community that life gets better despite the discrimination they may encounter. He also said that if colleges have people like him come in and speak about sensitivity and inclusiveness, like McDaniel did, the message will reach members of various groups in the college community.

He discussed the NFL’s role in equal rights activism over the past few years, claiming that they seem to want to become involved, but are “hesitant to pull the trigger.”

“I’d like to see them do more. I’d like to see them have some sensitivity training for the guys coming into the league,” he said. “I’d like to see them support a major HRC (Human Rights Campaign), [such as] GLAD, the Trevor Project, Athlete Ally, [or] some organization that supports equality and be proactive.”

Ayanbadejo said that if the NFL did that, “[it] would cut the battle in half for sure.” As for his personal plans for future activism, he will continue to voice his opinions and speak about equality through social media and college visits. He also collaborates with the White House and sits on the board for Athlete Ally, a non-profit program that works to end homophobia in the athletic community. Ayanbadejo plans to travel to Sochi, Russia to advocate for the LGBTQ community during the Olympics, since it is illegal in Russia to distribute what the Russian government views as “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” among minors. Many believe that this law in effect bans all demonstrations of gay rights.

One point Ayanbadejo made during his speech was that he does not consider himself an advocate; he believes he is just a concerned citizen.

Ayanbadejo has gone above and beyond in terms of being an active supporter of equal rights. Society is changing its views on issues such as marriage equality because of people like him, and if more citizens become active in this movement, we could eventually see equal rights for everybody across the country.

As Ayanbadejo pointed out in his speech, if Britney Spears can go to Vegas and get married out of the blue, why can’t some of his friends who have been together for over ten years have the same right?