There has been speculation that the NFL is on the verge of having its first openly gay player. Thursday night, two of the league's most vocal advocates for equality suggested it may in fact be players -- plural -- who break through that barrier together.
"It's possible you could see more than one,'' former Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo said. "To potentially have more than one player come out this year would be pretty ground-breaking and a momentous occasion.''
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"That would be ideal if a bunch of gay athletes came out at the same time, because then you could spread that attention,'' Vikings punter Chris Kluwe said. "It wouldn't be 'Hey, there's one guy.' It would be 'Oh, there are five or six guys' and this isn't just an isolated phenomenon. There are gay players in the NFL.''
Ayanbadejo and Kluwe were honored at the Straight for Equality Gala in Manhattan. They were presented their recognition by former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Tagliabue said he has spoken at college campuses about the issue of gays and lesbians in sports and believes it is less of a hurdle at that level than it is in the NFL.
"It takes a long time for civil rights to be recognized as robustly as they need to be recognized,'' Tagliabue said. "History tells us it can be decades, it can be centuries . . . Like a lot of things in our society, young people are going to be leaders.''
Ayanbadejo, 36, was cut by the Ravens earlier Thursday, and he said he thinks his role as an outspoken advocate played into the team's decision.
"My bark is louder than my bite,'' he said. "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?''
"We are surprised that Brandon would indicate that," Ravens spokesman Kevin Byrne said. "We have always respected Brandon's opinions and his right to express them. He was released for football reasons, period."
Ayanbadejo said he wants to remain a "catalyst for change'' in the NFL, even if he's not a player in it. It also means Ayanbadejo might not be in the NFL when it finally does have an openly gay player or players. That moment, though, will not mark the culmination of his and others' fight for equality.
"As Churchill said: 'It's not the beginning of the end, it's the end of the beginning,' '' Tagliabue said. "In some ways there has been tremendous change and progress in the past decades, but I think momentum is going to continue to build because it's obviously the right set of values and the right recognition of human rights.''