Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo says he won't back down from his support for gay marriage in Maryland, or nationally, despite one politician's public attack on his position.
Maryland is one of the four states to vote on same-sex marriage in November.
Ayanbadejo said that he's received positive encouragement from fans and the community. "The overwhelming majority is for marriage equality and treating everybody fairly," he told Thomas Roberts on MSNBC Wednesday. "It's the right thing to do."
Last month, Maryland State Delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr. sent a letter to Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti condemning Ayanbadejo's position advocating for same-sex marriage. Burns said he found it "inconceivable" that the NFL player would make such a public endorsement:
"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 the other. 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. I believe Mr. Ayanbadejo should concentrate on football and steer clear of dividing the fan base.
I am requesting that you take the necessary action, as a National Football Franchise Owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employee and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions."
The letter was sent to Bisciotti on official Maryland State letterhead.
Ayanbadejo tweeted that football was simply his job, and as an American, he has the right to free speech. Ravens officials told the Washington Post they received Burns' letter, but had no further comment.
The linebacker acknowledged that intolerance and homophobia was still an issue, but that the time was coming for things to change. "We're trying to make it safe," he said.
Burns, a fourth-term Democrat representing Baltimore County and the founder and pastor of Baltimore Rising Sun First Baptist Church, made headlines in May when he told CNN he would not vote for President Obama in November because of Obama's support for same-sex marriage. He urged other Democrats to do the same. Burns later took back his comments about the president, telling the news site AFRO, "I am supporting [the president], but I don't like his decision on same-sex marriage."
The Baltimore Sun reported last week that Burns is also walking back on his attacks on Ayanbadejo and the Baltimore Ravens, saying that both he and Ayanbadejo have the right to free speech.
Despite growing American support for gay marriage, Roberts noted on Wednesday that intolerance remains an issue in many areas of American life, including professional sports.
Just last weekend, Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar was photographed with a homophobic slur stamped on his face during a game. Escobar has been suspended for three games and will donate his salary during his suspension to You Can Play and GLAAD.