It's been more than a year since Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, who grew up in Santa Cruz, expressed his support for gay marriage in a video posted on YouTube. Since then the video has garnered more than 27,000 views; certainly a respectable number, but not nearly what you'd expect given the hullabaloo recently sparked by Ayanbadejo's opinions.
In late August a Maryland state legislator sent Ravens team officials a letter asking that they stop Ayanbadejo from expressing his views on same-sex marriage. That led Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe to pen a profanity-laced and often hilarious response that was posted Friday on the website Deadspin.
The Kluwe letter has gotten 1.6 million hits on Deadspin, according to Outsports.com co-founder Jim Buzinski. Outsports covers sports from a gay perspective.
"America's supposed to be the land of the free, but in order for this to be true for all of us, then we must have the ability to marry whom we love regardless of their gender." - Brendon Ayanbadejo, Baltimore Ravens linebacker.
"It was just one of those things that hit and everybody read it, because, they though, Oh my god this is a perfect rebuttal," Buzinski said. "That's the reason this has become a huge issue, and Ayanbadejo had now gotten a lot of support within the NFL, within the Ravens, within the fan base."
Football fans haven't always been so supportive of Ayanbadejo. The linebacker has been speaking out about gay marriage since at least 2009, and Buzinski said some of the comments fans posted online about his opinions at the time were very critical.
Now, however, it takes a humorous letter marked with obscenities to generate discussion about gay issues in pro sports. Meanwhile, a video of a NFL player expressing support for gay marriage draws fewer views than a video of a cat playing piano. (OK, so maybe that's an unfair comparison.)
It could just be that Americans overall are more in favor of gay marriage. A 2012 study by the Pew Research Center shows that support for same-sex marriage has grown over the years. The attitudes of football fans and some players reflects that change in opinion, Buzinski said. He noted that this summer Outsports.com interviewed more than two dozen NFL players who are "gay supportive."
"At some point, you'll have an openly gay player in professional sports, there will be a huge flurry and then people will say what was all the fuss about," Buzinski said. "Homophobia is no longer cool in sports. By that I mean, it obviously still exists because we don't have any out (athletes in the major pro sports). But players cannot get away with saying anti-gay things without there being repercussions."
"The media is not accepting it, fans are not accepting it, nobody thinks it's cool to do these things," he said.
Still, the number of professional athletes who are joining Ayanbadejo by voicing their support for same-sex marriage remains relatively small. Here are some of the players who have expressed that opinion.
Do you know of an athlete that we left off the list? Should professional athletes be leading the discussion on social issues? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.