By Aaron Wilson
The Baltimore Sun
8:00 AM EDT, April 5, 2013
During an hour-long interview with The Baltimore Sun early Friday morning, former Ravens linebacker and special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo emphasized that he doesn't believe he was cut from the Super Bowl champions' roster because of his strong advocacy for same-sex marriage and gay rights.
Ayanbadejo indicated that he understands and accepts the decision, praising the Ravens for their support of him being an outspoken voice for gay causes. He distanced himself from his interview Thursday night with Newsday at a Straight for Equality Gala in New York where he was honored along with Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, where he seemed to suggest that his beliefs were one of the reasons that he was released earlier that day.
"The Ravens have been backing me, they knew my stance for years and have been facilitating me and organizing me with LGBT and set me up with Equality Maryland. They helped me," said Ayanbadejo, who was due a $940,000 base salary this year entering the second year of a three-year, $3.22 million contract. "If they didn't like what I was doing, they would have cut me a long time ago. I'm a special-teams player and you can find somebody to do what I did for less than half that value. They can find someone to do the same job. I was the most productive player on special teams and the only linebacker who played in every single game. I'm not saying I didn't bring any value. What I was saying about my bark is louder than my bite is I was talking more that I was productive and it makes you expendable.
"No team wants any situation to be bigger than football. I think equality rights is inherently bigger than football, but in no way was I a distraction for my team. It was a balancing act. I was there to play football. I was also there to promote positive issues, things bigger than football. The NFL doesn't really want that. I was saying the NFL as a whole organization, not just the Ravens. The NFL isn't talking about politics, immigration policies, war and AIDS. The NFL doesn't touch those things. The NFL keeps it safe, talking about charities for kids and those less fortunate, cancer, stuff like that. I was touching on issues bigger than football. I think the Ravens think I'm mad at them, but I'm absolutely not. I love the Ravens. When I say my bark was louder than my bite, I'm saying I'm not the player I once was and the Ravens did the right thing. They were justified. I have no problem with them at all."
Hours earlier, Ayanbadejo's remarks had created a stir on the Internet.
"My bark is louder than my bite," Ayanbadejo told Newsday before taking to his Twitter account to clarify his comments. "I make a lot of noise and garner a lot of attention for various things off the football field. When that starts happening, why do you have that player around? I don't necessarily think that teams want this type of attention."
Ayanbadejo turns 37 in September and is coming off a season where he had 14 special-teams tackles to lead the team. However, he had no special-teams tackles in the playoffs as the Ravens allowed a pair of touchdown returns to Denver Broncos speedster Trindon Holliday in an AFC divisional-round road victory.
The Ravens expressed surprise over Ayanbadejo's initial statements on his departure from the team, which appears to be an amicable parting.
"We're surprised that he would indicate this. We have always been respectful of Brendon's opinions and his right to express those," Ravens senior vice president of public and community relations Kevin Byrne told The Sun. "Our decision regarding his departure from the team has everything to do with football. Nothing else."
Ayanbadejo recorded a career-high 30 tackles on defense last season for the Ravens, also registering a sack.
Ayanbadejo said he definitely felt accepted by the Ravens, who backed him publicly after Maryland Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr. wrote a letter to owner Steve Bisciotti where he requested that the franchise put a stop to the special-teams standout's advocacy.
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh both issued complimentary statements about Ayanbadejo when he was officially released after five seasons in Baltimore.
"He was a tremendous contributor to our success, both on [special] teams and for our defense over the last five seasons, including our Super Bowl two months ago," Harbaugh said. "And he was a pleasure to have on our team. We'll stay in contact, I hope, but I'll miss our regular conversations."
Newsome indicated that the door wasn't closed on a potential return for Ayanbadejo.
"When I got cut, Ozzie called me, John Harbaugh called me and we spoke for 40 minutes," Ayanbadejo said. "Steve Bisciotti called me. Kevin Byrne reached out to me. [Defensive coordinator] Dean Pees and [linebackers coach] Wink Martindale reached out to me. I'm a Raven for life. I'm definitely upset with the journalist. The Ravens treated me with a lot of respect. I always had a great relationship with Dick Cass. I always praised the way they do things and their principles. They have happy employees, which equates to a successful company.
"They do things the right way. I'm totally cool with them. I'm a Raven for life. Being a Raven has been the greatest experience professionally for me. I was a Raven and got to be in a state where they voted for marriage equality, which had always been defeated in the past. It was meant to be. We won the Super Bowl. It was such an amazing experience and roller-coaster ride. How could I ever be upset?"
Ayanbadejo, who was given recognition along with Kluwe from former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue at the event Thursday night, predicted that more than one player may come out as gay during their playing career. Ayanbadejo said the groundwork is being laid to reduce the pressure on such a player, and said as many as four players could conceivably come out simultaneously.
"I think it will happen sooner than you think," Ayanbadejo said. "We're in talks with a handful of players who are considering it. There are up to four players being talked to right now and they're trying to be organized so they can come out on the same day together. It would make a major splash and take the pressure off one guy. It would be a monumental day if a handful or a few guys come out.
"Of course, there would be backlash. If they could share the backlash, it would be more positive. It's cool. It's exciting. We're in talks with a few guys who are considering it. The NFL and organizations are already being proactive and open if a player does it and if something negative happens. We'll see what happens."
Ayanbadejo said he met with NFL vice president of player engagement Troy Vincent on Thursday and may be asked to speak to incoming players at the annual NFL rookie symposium about being sensitive toward the LGBT community. Nothing has been scheduled yet, though.
At the Super Bowl, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver drew heavy criticism after he said that a gay player wouldn't be accepted in the locker room. Culliver apologized and underwent sensitivity training.
"I had a great talk with Troy Vincent," said Ayanbadejo, adding that he's been asked to speak to several corporations and institutions, including his alma mater, UCLA, as a keynote speaker at the athlete graduation ceremony as well as Harvard University, Johnson and Johnson, McDonalds and Cover Girl. "The NFL wants to be proactive about what's going on with players and some of the remarks and incidents that have been happening with the LGBT community. The NFL wants me to talk to the rookie class and they are talking about potentially having talks with all the guys about LGBT sensitivity. I think all the major sports groups need to be productive and take a stance.
"Everyone has a relative or friend that's in the LGBT community, whether it's Paul Tagliabue's son or people in the Ravens organization who have relatives in the LGBT community. I gave Troy my suggestions. There are a lot of opportunities opening up, but I had nothing scheduled because I had been anticipating playing. I knew there was a possibility that I could be released. I have no regrets. I wouldn't change a single thing. It's been a good ride. If the Ravens call me in training camp, so be it. If not, I'll still be busy with a lot of great things."
Finally, Ayanbadejo expressed gratitude at the reaction from the majority of fans since his release.
"The Ravens have a ton of gay and lesbian fans nationwide and in the city of Baltimore," Ayanbadejo said. "I get a ton of supportive emails and letters. It's pretty cool. We have blue-collar fans, a diverse set of blue-collar fans, a diaspora of great people.
"Everyone says they're sorry to see me go, but it's like you graduated even though people see it as a sad thing. I see it as a great thing. When one door closes, another one opens. Sometimes people pigeonhole you and think football is all there is, but this is when life just starts. This is uncharted territory."