My Sportsman: Brendon Ayanbadejo
But on the evening of Sept. 17, when Ravens linebacker
In sports, unfortunately, certain spades too often go unremarked upon. No matter where a person falls on this country's politico-religious spectrum, the simple fact is that not many pro athletes -- much less those who also play the manliest position (linebacker) in the manliest of sports (football) in the manliest of leagues (the NFL) -- have the stones to write an opinion piece titled, "
Of course, such an argument itself is not novel. By Ayanbadejo's own admission, people vastly more eloquent and vastly more courageous have been fighting for this cause for decades. But within a multi-billion-dollar industry that is so culturally venerated and yet, at times, so culturally stagnant, even
"It was actually one of my easier pieces to write," says the 33-year-old Ayanbadejo, who has a girlfriend and a young daughter. "I thought it was a no-brainer. I'm pro-fairness, pro-equality. I just don't want people to be alienated."
It's all in line with Ayanbadejo's typical mix of modesty and audacity. He was an under-recruited self-starter who grew up in Santa Cruz, Calif., and leapt from junior college to first-team All-Pac-10 at UCLA. He then survived a gauntlet of 10 different pro teams en route to becoming a CFL All-Star and two-time All-Pro as the bane of kick-returners everywhere.
By the third week of this NFL season, he had finally earned a starting gig as a linebacker, won an AFC Defensive Player of the Week nod and ranked second on the vaunted Ravens defense in tackles.
At which point -- having played in precisely 100 consecutive NFL games and having turned in his very best Ray Lewis impression on the field -- Ayanbadejo tore his left quadriceps tendon against the Patriots on Sept. 4. He won't play again this season, but his rehab is going well and he's studying for the GMAT, part of his dream to become the first African-American athletic director at UCLA.
Not that some new fans working over on South Sharp could be any more impressed.
"Brendon's amazing," says Equality Maryland board president
More than that, it's sportsmanship at its best.