Friday, February 8, 2013
Something to Cheer About
Brendon Ayanbadejo is not a household word. He is a linebacker for the world champion Baltimore Ravens, but I confess that I had never heard of him before a Maryland legislator, Emmert C. Burns Jr., wrote to Ravens management asking them to silence Mr. Ayanbadejo’s outspoken support for gay marriage.
In a letter to Ravens owner Steve Biscotti, Burns said, "I find it inconceivable that one of your players, Mr. Brendon Ayanbadejo, would publicly endorse Same-Sex marriage, specifically as a Ravens football player.” Burns went on to request “that you take the necessary action, as a National Football League Owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employees and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions. I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing."
That last sentence reflects poorly on the NFL and says something very positive about Mr. Ayanbadejo.
Chris Kluwe, a punter for the Minnesota Vikings responded with a profanity laced essay to assure Mr. Burns that Ayanbadejo was not the only one in the NFL speaking out for gay marriage. He also scolded Burns for his apparent indifference to the First Amendment. In more muted tones, the NFL and the Ravens responded in terms of free speech and tolerance.
As the Ravens addressed the media storm around Brendon Ayanbadejo, the San Francisco Forty-Niners had a storm of their own. Cornerback Chris Culliver told a radio interviewer that a gay player definitely would not be welcome on their team or in their locker room. Team management responded with declarations of tolerance and the promise that Mr. Culliver would apologize and do public penance. Seriously. If there is one thing the NFL knows, it’s marketing. You cannot say that kind of thing in San Francisco.
From my perspective, this was perfect. I had someone to cheer for and someone to root against.
But it turns out that the Culliver case was not that simple. He made the offensive remarks during an interview with radio host and comedian Artie Lange. The radio host described it as a “goofy interview” in which he asks all sorts of “stupid” questions. That’s not an excuse, but it does put the remarks in a different light.
And then there was the apology:
"The derogatory comments I made yesterday were a reflection of thoughts in my head, but they are not how I feel," Culliver said in a statement released by the team. "It has taken me seeing them in print to realize that they are hurtful and ugly. Those discriminating feelings are truly not in my heart. Further, I apologize to those who I have hurt and offended, and I pledge to learn and grow from this experience."
If it’s not the best apology ever, it’s close. The most important thing in the apology is what he didn’t say. He didn’t utter the classic phrase, “If anyone was offended.” And he didn’t offer any excuses. He called his own words “hurtful and ugly.” He didn’t tell us that he is really a good person. And he promised to learn and grow from the experience. Following up on his apology, he issued this statement:
“As an African American male, I should know better. Hate and discrimination have a lasting effect and word matter. I also have a responsibility to myself, and especially to my young fans to be a better role model. The kids who look up to me and other athletes are the future of our country, and our future deserves better than fear, hate and discrimination…I was wrong, and I want to learn how to make it right. That’s why I reached out to an organization called The Trevor Project…No child should ever feel like they are less than anyone else, and God has put me through this storm so I can learn from my mistakes and help make sure no child has to feel that way, again.”
My guess is that the Forty-Niners had their PR people working on this, but I am still impressed with his willingness to take responsibility for what he said and grow from the experience. Sounds like a stand up guy to me.