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?”

Wetzel continued:

“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


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