This post was originally published on Young Men’s Nation.
Wikipedia excerpt: “Oladele Brendon Ayanbadejo (/ˈbrɛndən ˌaɪ.ənbəˈdeɪʒoʊ/; born September 6, 1976) is an American football linebacker of the National Football League (NFL) who is currently a free agent. He was signed by the Atlanta Falcons as an undrafted free agent in 1999. He played college football for the UCLA Bruins.”
I’ll let the awesome Rosalind Wiseman (author of Queen Bees and Wannabees, that got made into a movie you’ve probably heard about, Mean Girls) do the talking here, from a new book she’s released as an accompaniment to a book for parents of boys called Masterminds and Wingmen.
The quotation below comes from the companion book called The Guide, which is specifically for guys like yourselves, in high school and college, to navigate your social relationships with other guys and with girls. Great stuff. It’s a free e-book available here. Highly, highly recommended.
Today’s focus is an American football player who just blows all notions of “typical star athlete” out of the water. Check this out:
Brendon Ayanbadejo of The National Football League epitomizes American masculinity and personifies the “Act Like A Man” Box. Ripped? Check. Tall? Check. Handsome? Check. Straight? Check. Athletic? Check. What (is awesome is) that Ayanbadejo didn’t let the box trap him. In high school he was active in theater and politics and lived with his mom in an apartment on the campus of UC Santa Cruz, where he was surrounded by all different kinds of people. He also happened to play football.
In 2009, Brendon became one of the first athletes from a major American professional sports team to speak out in support of same-sex marriage. It wasn’t easy. “If I was walking by, and they [the players] wanted to be immature and make comments, I’d keep walking,” said Ayanbadejo, who has a 1-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter with his longtime girlfriend. “If they wanted to be real men and have conversations, I would have, but no one did” (New York Times, September 14, 2012 ).
Real men have conversations? Exactly. When Ayanbadejo heard gay slurs from his teammates, this is what he did: “I just drop a little something in their ear, and hopefully it lets them see a little bit wider that those words are harmful. They go, ‘I didn’t mean it like that.’ I just tell them, ‘If you didn’t mean it like that, then don’t say it” (USA Today, September 12, 2012).
This is the power of professional sports at its best. That (this) professional athlete — who participate(s) in the most popular sport in the United States and whose size and strength embod(ies) male physical power — (is) the one stepping forward to defend gay people is, in a word, stunning.
And more stuff on how consistently awesome this guy has been, from a New York Times article back in 2012:
Ayanbadejo’s parents separated when he was 3, and his mother, Rita, took him and his older brother Obafemi from Nigeria to a two-bedroom apartment in a drug-infested housing project in Chicago.
Ayanbadejo looked forward to the first day of each month, when Rita would come home with milk, cheese and cereal she had purchased with food stamps. They ate Thanksgiving dinners at the Boys & Girls Club, and their Christmas gifts came from local charities.
“The good part about living there was you were around every kind of person you could imagine,” Ayanbadejo said. “Differences didn’t matter, because we all had struggles.”
“It’s an extraordinarily tough issue for an African-American pro athlete to take on publicly, and he’s done it with such grace,” Skolnik said.
Ayanbadejo does not trumpet his views in the locker room. He speaks out only when he hears a teammate utter a gay slur. But he is not afraid to share his thoughts.
“In an environment like an N.F.L. locker room, I think it’s extremely commendable to have the courage to stand up for something like this,” said Domonique Foxworth, who is president of the N.F.L. Players Association and who was Ayanbadejo’s teammate on the Ravens. “A lot of guys know these views are out there, and they may not be as strong as Brendon and may not be able to accept the ridicule they may receive.”
Why is Ayanbadejo so awesome? Here’s some quick things:
1. Believes all people deserve dignity and should have the right to make their own choices without being ridiculed or persecuted.
2. Sticks to his beliefs in the face of massive ridicule from teammates and friends on a topic that is a “sacred cow” of supposed manliness, which is: “You do NOT let anyone think you’re gay or supportive of gay people.” He spoke out anyway.
3. Doesn’t go around forcing people to listen. Chooses his battles and speaks up when necessary.
4. Had a tough childhood but didn’t let it get him down. In fact, it made him more compassionate toward others, not less.
5. Recognized that “with great power comes great responsibility.” He is a man in a position of great influence as an NFL football player and decided to use this influence to make the lives of others better.
This man is the essence of “honorable,” which is basically this: Doing the right thing, even when it’s not easy, consistently over time and in every context.
Ayanbadejo definitely aspires to this every day.