By Ken Reed
Dan Wetzel might be the best sports columnist in America. Brendon Ayanbadejo might be the best activist athlete in the United States. And Maryland state house of delegates-member Emmett C. Burns Jr. (D-Baltimore County) might be the biggest political fool in the country (I know, there’s tough competition in this category).
In a terrific column this week, Wetzel tells the story of Ayanbadejo’s support for same sex marriage and Burns’ efforts to silence him because of that support. Ayanbadejo, an NFL linebacker with the Baltimore Ravens, has spoken out on a variety of issues, including promoting more physical activity and better nutrition in our schools, and pushing various environmental sustainability solutions.
Burns, who is also a Baptist minister, sent a letter — written on Maryland House of Delegate letterhead — to Ravens owner Steven Bisciotti last week calling for disciplinary action against Ayanbadejo for his stance on gay marriage.
“I find it inconceivable that one of your players, Mr. Brendon Ayanbadejo, would publicly endorse Same-Sex marriage, specifically as a Raven Football player,” Burns wrote. He went on to say, “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 League Owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employees and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions.”
In his column, Wetzel responded:
“None of this is about whether you support or oppose gay marriage in Maryland or anywhere else. Go ahead and debate that among yourselves. It’s about the idea that NFL players should be robots who simply play football and have no outside thoughts or interests. That’s not who most of them are. It’s the same defense that [Tim] Tebow deserves when some grow angry that he honors his faith during football games. Why shouldn’t he? Who is that hurting?”
“It’s not even about gay marriage. This is about common sense and the common good. America doesn’t need its natural role models – pro athletes – stifled from showing their broader interests, their intellectual curiosity, their thoughts and beliefs and education and politics. We need more Brendon Ayanbadejos, not fewer, the way we need more Tim Tebows, not fewer. We need more young men aware of and engaged in the big, complex world outside the film room, not less. Let the free market place of ideas sort out who is followed or not.”
Amen, Brother Wetzel.
Fortunately, Ayanbadejo doesn’t appear to be deterred by Burns’ silly and unpatriotic ramblings.
“Football is just my job, it’s not who I am,” Ayanbadejo wrote on Twitter. “I am an American before anything. And just like every American I have the right to speak!!!”
The First Amendment is — more than anything — what makes America great.
Burns should be ashamed of himself for writing that letter.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman, and has a long involvement with the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sport (now called the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition). We discuss the state of college athletics today, given the pressures of NIL, the transfer portal, sports gambling and huge media contracts. McMillen then provides great perspective on the poor state of physical fitness our young people are experiencing today.
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Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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Ken Reed’s Author Page on Amazon