I’m one of the few lesbians who doesn’t follow football. But some of these NFL guys have really caught my attention lately.

Apart from the extremely tight-fitting pants, the reaching between each other’s legs to grab a ball, and the love of piling on top of each other at every chance they get, football is a pretty masculine sport. It’s no wonder no NFL—or any other major league sport—player has ever come out of the closet during their career (a few have come out after retiring from the sport).

But what is even better for the gay rights movement than a player coming out? Big strong masculine straight dudes, who others straight dudes admire, coming out in favor of gay rights. Professional athletes are in the perfect position to reach the average American Joe Schmo who probably never thought twice about gay marriage, or worse, claims to be against it because he doesn’t want anyone questioning his own sexuality.

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo has been a long-time supporter of those who are different. He was brought up poor, moving from Nigeria at age three to a Chicago housing project and living off food stamps. He claims it was this upbringing that taught him to embrace other people’s differences “because we all had struggles.”

When Ayanbadejo came out in favor of gay marriage in 2009, he wasn’t met with the fanfare that he is now. (In the past week, Ayanbadejo has been contacted by supporters in Brazil, Norway, England, Australia, Colombia and Ireland.) He was attacked in online forums and ridiculed by his teammates. But it didn’t stop him. Two years later, he filmed a video in support of the upcoming Maryland referendum, which he posted on YouTube. He’s also been known to donate tickets to his games to pro gay marriage fundraisers. He continued to voice his support, eventually prompting Maryland legislator Emmett C. Burns Jr. to ask Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti to urge Ayanbadejo keep quiet on the subject. Maryland is among the four states to vote on same-sex marriage this November.

When word got about Burns’ attempt to block Ayanbadejo’s right to free speech, Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe furiously joined the fight. (Fittingly, Minnesota is voting this November on a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as only a union between one man and one woman.) Kluwe wrote quite possibly the best letter I’ve ever read to the Maryland state delegate, explaining to him, that, among other things, if gays are allowed to marry, they “won’t even overthrow the government in an orgy of hedonistic debauchery because all of a sudden they have the same legal rights as the other 90 percent of our population—rights like Social Security benefits, child care tax credits, Family and Medical Leave to take care of loved ones, and COBRA healthcare for spouses and children.” If you haven’t yet read the letter, I urge you to do so. That alone might turn this lesbian into a football fan.

Update: Ayanbadejo is, as it turns out, entitled to free speech, Burns reluctantly admitted after several days of defending his actions (although still has not apologized).

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