By Ken Reed

Two of the most active advocates for social justice and human rights in the NFL have been released within a month of each other.

Punter Chris Kluwe, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings, and Linebacker Brandon Ayanbadejo, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens have been cut this NFL offseason. Kluwe and Ayanbadejo were outspoken champions of LGBT rights and marriage equality. Kluwe also spoke out on player safety issues and was vocal about the lack of punters in the NFL Hall of Fame.

The reasons for their releases aren’t clear but their outspokenness undoubtedly was part of the equation given the NFL’s “be seen not heard” culture. This is especially true for Kluwe, who was coming off one of his best NFL seasons statistically. Last season, Kluwe, an eight-year veteran, averaged 45.0 yards per punt (his career average is 44.4 yards) with a career-best 39.7 net average. Ayanbadejo is a 10-year NFL vet who has been primarily a backup linebacker and special teams standout. There were no obvious signs that his level of play had deteriorated in 2012, but he drew a lot of media attention for his work campaigning for the successful ballot measure in Maryland legalizing same-sex marriage last year.

“As athletes, we have an opportunity to be role models,” said Kluwe after the Vikings cut him. “And I think we have a platform to do a lot of good in the world by taking advantage of the opportunity to speak out on important societal issues. I’d hate to think that would be considered a major distraction on equal footing with all the arrests that go on around the league.

“I’ve always spoken for myself. I’ve never said anything denigrating about coaches or players or management or whatever. It’s simply speaking up on things I feel strongly about.”

Who knows what really went into the firings of these two NFL social justice role models. Maybe the cuts truly were based on their performance on the field.

But I seriously doubt it.

I do know that the NFL needs to come out of the Stone Age on social issues, and realize that the league’s players are citizens, too — not just employees expected to operate like robots.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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