Brendon Ayanbadejo: Our Kind of Ally
By Amy K. Nelson
Photography by Roger Erickson
Chris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo. They’re straight. They’re NFL players. And they call themselves athlete allies. It’s been nearly a year since Kluwe, then a punter for the Minnesota Vikings, penned a powerful and profanity-laden missive in support of Baltimore Raven Ayanbadejo. The open letter, published on sports website Deadspin, was addressed to Maryland delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr., who had written to the Ravens’s owner essentially asking him to muzzle Ayanbadejo’s support of a marriage equality bill. The 772-word piece, in which Kluwe (who has a gay brother-in-law) assured Burns that gay marriage in America would not “magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster,” went viral, eventually landed him on The Colbert Report, and made him, along with Ayanbadejo, one of the lead voices and activists in the ally movement.
In the months that have followed, both Ayanbadejo and Kluwe have become even more active in the fight for equality, from making robocalls to Illinois residents, to co-filing an amicus brief with the Supreme Court on the challenge to California’s Prop 8, to marching in gay pride parades this spring. Their vocal activism, as well as NBA center Jason Collins’s coming out -- he’s the first male athlete active in one of the big four professional sports to do so -- are hopeful signs of change in the culture of pro sports. Ayanbadejo, 36, won a Super Bowl this winter, before both men were released by their respective teams. Kluwe, 31, fought for and secured a roster spot on the Oakland Raiders this May; Ayanbadejo will graduate with an MBA from George Washington University this summer and is actively considering new career options. The two men spoke with Amy K. Nelson about their roles as straight allies, whether their activism is translating to actionable items, how their worlds have changed now that they’re ambassadors to the LGBT community, and what needs to happen next.
Amy K. Nelson: We’re three straight people talking about LGBT issues. I mention this because both of you have been huge faces for your portion of the straight athlete ally movement. You obviously interact with so many people in the LGBT community. What has it been like for you now that you’re more ensconced in this world?
Chris Kluwe: For me, it’s mainly been people coming up and saying, “Thank you; thank you for speaking out, thank you for having a voice.” While I’m grateful for that, it’s also kind of depressing, that someone has to thank someone else for speaking out for their essential human rights. I mean, gay people are people just like anybody else… There are great people in the LGBTQ community and there are bad people in the LGBTQ community, just like there are great people and bad people everywhere else. It’s humanity.
Brendon Ayanbadejo: I think the coolest thing was [when] a gay couple was getting married in Tahiti and wanted to fly me out there to be at their wedding -- I thought that was awesome. I thought that was a good gesture. Every day on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook, guys ask me to marry them--
AKN: Would you ever take them up on it, Brendon?
CK: Very snappily.
BA: It’s flattering -- of course it’s joking, but the most flattering one is: “This large gay woman would take you any day.” When I get those messages, I kind of like them. I’m always with my wife and I’m like, “Look, other girls do like me.” But I think, at the end of the day, the most special thing is when a mother or a gay person comes up to you and just thanks you and calls you a hero. They say I’m a hero, but I’m just a concerned citizen and I’m just doing the right thing.
I don’t know about Chris, but we’ll see what happens after my photo shoot -- I’ve seen some of Chris’s pictures, and I had a little twinkle in my eye after I saw them. I don’t know, maybe I’ll get some more proposals from more women and gay men.