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Rabidly anti-gay Maryland legislator Emmett C. Burns may have thought he could intimidate Baltimore Ravens player Brendon Ayanbadejo. Angry that Ayanbedejo made a powerful video expressing his support for same-sex marriage, Burns, a Democrat who railed against the marriage-equality bill when it passed the House of Delegates in February 2012, wrote a letter to the owner of the Baltimore Ravens, Steve Biscotti, "requesting that you take the necessary action, as a National Football League franchise ownner, to inhibit such expressions from your employee and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions." The reaction he got from another NFL player, Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, may not be what he expected.
Pro-bowl linebacker Ayanbadejo came to the Ravens in 2008 after playing with the Miami Dolphins and the Chicago Bears. In October 2011, he made a video on behalf of Marylanders for Marriage Equality. It is stunning in its simplicity and power.
The success of the video undoubtedly unhinged Delegate Burns, who is also a Baptist minister.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing about Burns's attempt to muzzle Ayanbadejo is that his August 29, 2012 letter to Biscotti was written on House of Delegates stationery. Moreover, in the letter Burns gives the impression that he is writing to Biscotti as a function of his position as a member of the House of Delegates.
A legislator's attempt to suppress a citizen's First Amendment rights would be shocking were we not already familiar with the tactics of the opponents of same-sex marriage.
Ayanbadejo first responded to the news of the letter via twitter. His tweet said simply, "Football is just my job it's not who I am. I am an American before anything. And just like every American I have the right to speak!!!"
On September 7, 2012, the linebacker spoke at greater length to Matt Vensel of the Baltimore Sun. He said he was surprised "that something like that would come up, especially from a politician."
He said that he had received support from many people, both in Baltimore and outside. "Surprisingly, Steelers fans, Patriots fans, Bengals fans, Cowboys fans, people who don't even watch the NFL have all sent me messages saying that, 'I now have a reason to watch football or even cheer for the Ravens because of your support for equality,' so that feels good," said Ayanbadejo.
He said that he latched onto the cause of marriage equality when President Barack Obama was in the middle of his 2008 campaign. He wrote an op-ed piece on the issue for The Huffington Post, in addition to making the video spots for Equality Maryland.
"I just thought it was important because it's an equality issue. I see the big picture," Ayanbadejo said. "You know, there was a time when women didn't have rights, black people didn't have rights, and right now, gay rights is a big issue and it has been for a long time. And so we're slowly chopping down the barriers to equality. We have some minority rights we have to get straight and some gay rights, then we'll be on our way--because ultimately, the goal is to be the best country that we can be and we're always evolving. You just look back to where we came from, and we've come a long way, but we still have a ways to go."
Ayanbadejo told Vensel that team president Dick Cass stopped him in the hallway to let him know that the team supported him voicing his opinions on the issue.
Cass himself released the following statement: "We support Brendon's right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment."
But perhaps the strongest support that Ayanbadejo has received came from a football player on another NFL team who has also made videos in support of marriage equality, Chris Kluwe of the Minnesota Vikings.
Kluwe, one of the leading punters in the NFL, has played with the Vikings since 2005. In July, he recorded a video for Minnesota for Marriage Equality urging voters to reject the proposed ban on same-sex marriage that will appear on the state's November ballot.
When Kluwe learned of Burns's attempt to muzzle Ayandadejo he wrote a hilariously irate and irreverent open letter to Burns and published it on the sports website Deadspin.
Dear Emmett C. Burns Jr.,
I find it inconceivable that you are an elected official of Maryland's state government. Your vitriolic hatred and bigotry make me ashamed and disgusted to think that you are in any way responsible for shaping policy at any level. The views you espouse neglect to consider several fundamental key points, which I will outline in great detail (you may want to hire an intern to help you with the longer words).
1. As I suspect you have not read the Constitution, I would like to remind you that the very first, the VERY FIRST Amendment in this founding document deals with the freedom of speech, particularly the abridgment of said freedom. By using your position as an elected official (when referring to your constituents so as to implicitly threaten the Ravens organization) to state that the Ravens should "inhibit such expressions from your employees," more specifically Brendon Ayanbadejo, not only are you clearly violating the First Amendment, you also come across as a narcissistic fromunda stain. What on earth would possess you to be so mind-boggingly stupid? It baffles me that a man such as yourself, a man who relies on that same First Amendment to pursue your own religious studies without fear of persecution from the state, could somehow justify stifling another person's right to speech. To call that hypocritical would be to do a disservice to the word. Mindfucking obscenely hypocritical starts to approach it a little bit.
2. "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." Holy fucking shitballs. Did you seriously just say that, as someone who's "deeply involved in government task forces on the legacy of slavery in Maryland"? Have you not heard of Kenny Washington? Jackie Robinson? As recently as 1962 the NFL still had segregation, which was only done away with by brave athletes and coaches daring to speak their mind and do the right thing, and you're going to say that political views have "no place in a sport"? I can't even begin to fathom the cognitive dissonance that must be coursing through your rapidly addled mind right now; the mental gymnastics your brain has to tortuously contort itself through to make such a preposterous statement are surely worthy of an Olympic gold medal (the Russian judge gives you a 10 for "beautiful oppressionism").
3. This is more a personal quibble of mine, but why do you hate freedom? Why do you hate the fact that other people want a chance to live their lives and be happy, even though they may believe in something different than you, or act different than you? How does gay marriage, in any way shape or form, affect your life? If gay marriage becomes legal, are you worried that all of a sudden you'll start thinking about penis? "Oh shit. Gay marriage just passed. Gotta get me some of that hot dong action!" Will all of your friends suddenly turn gay and refuse to come to your Sunday Ticket grill-outs? (Unlikely, since gay people enjoy watching football too.)
I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won't come into your house and steal your children. They won't magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster. They won't even overthrow the government in an orgy of hedonistic debauchery because all of a sudden they have the same legal rights as the other 90 percent of our population--rights like Social Security benefits, child care tax credits, Family and Medical Leave to take care of loved ones, and COBRA healthcare for spouses and children. You know what having these rights will make gays? Full-fledged American citizens just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that entails. Do the civil-rights struggles of the past 200 years mean absolutely nothing to you?
In closing, I would like to say that I hope this letter, in some small way, causes you to reflect upon the magnitude of the colossal foot in mouth clusterfuck you so brazenly unleashed on a man whose only crime was speaking out for something he believed in. Best of luck in the next election; I'm fairly certain you might need it.
Sincerely, Chris Kluwe
It is always nice to see straight allies, especially jocks, standing up against religious bullies, especially those who have political power.