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How Super Bowl XLVII Turned Into A Contest Over Gay Rights

by Keph Senett on February 1, 2013

in News,Sports

Post image for How Super Bowl XLVII Turned Into A Contest Over Gay Rights

Only seven days ago, the biggest story leading up to the Super Bowl XLVII was probably that the two competing coaches are brothers. What a difference a week can make. After an incredibly eventful pre-game week, this Sunday’s match will be as much about gay rights as about a championship title. So how did this happen?

You could argue that this began back in 2009 when Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo (image: bottom left) began speaking out in support of same-sex marriage, but that wouldn’t quite be accurate. Ayanbajedo’s equality campaign failed to generate much interest until September of last year when Maryland State Delegate Emmett C. Burns, Jr. wrote a letter to Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, demanding sanctions against Ayanbadejo.

“I am requesting that you take the necessary action, as a National Football Franchise Owner,” Burns, Jr. wrote, “to inhibit such expressions from your employee and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions.” Ironically, Burns, Jr. wrote in the same letter that football is “…a sport that is strictly for pride, entertainment, and excitement.” [Emphasis added.]

Bisciotti and the Ravens backed Ayanbadejo in the most graceful way possible–with an acknowledgement of receipt of the letter, and no further comment.

Ayanbadejo did not cease and desist, and according to the linebacker, the world of football was largely supportive. Arguably the most famous supporter, and certainly the most linguistically creative, was Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, who responded with his own letter to Emmett C. Burns, Jr.

I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won’t come into your house and steal your children. They won’t magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster. 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. You know what having these rights will make gays? Full-fledged American citizens just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that entails.
(Emphasis added, read the full letter on Deadspin. No really, go read it.)

Not surprisingly, the letter went viral.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Ravens kept winning, and ultimately earned their place to compete in the Super Bowl. Their opponents? The San Francisco 49ers, who made news last year when they became the first NFL team to produce a video for the “It Gets Better” campaign, a project in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth.

The Ravens’ Ayanbajedo took his upcoming Super Bowl appearance as an opportunity to announce that he intended to harness the event media to promote a gay rights agenda. “It’s a message of positivity. It’s a message of equality. And it’s a chance to get it out,” Ayanbajedo said. “It’s not going to affect the way I play football but its going to affect a lot of people’s lives off the field.”

For a while, it looked like the 47th Super Bowl would be the gayest ever. But then things got weird.

On January 31, 2013, Yahoo Sports posted audio from an interview with 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver (image: bottom right) on radio personality Artie Lange’s show:

Lange: What about gay guys, do any of them approach you?
Culliver: I don’t do the gay guys man. I don’t do that.
Lange: Any other 49ers?
Culliver: We don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff. Nah…can’t be…in the locker room man. Nah.
Lange: OK, so they’d have to stay… keep it a secret.
Culliver: Yeah, come out 10 years later after that.

It didn’t take long for the 49ers to release and official statement, which read, in part:

“The San Francisco 49ers reject the comments that were made yesterday, and have addressed the matter with Chris. There is no place for discrimination within our organization at any level. We have and always will proudly support the LGBT community.”

There was no mention of any official sanction against the cornerback. Culliver also released an apology, of sorts, claiming that “The derogatory comments I made yesterday were a reflection of thoughts in my head, but they are not how I feel.”

At this point, media outlets began reporting on the irony of the 49ers’ It Gets Better video, and that’s when things got really weird.

Yesterday, two of the 49ers from the video–Ahmad Brooks and Isaac Sopoaga–denied any involvement in the It Gets Better project.

“This is America and if someone wants to be gay, they can be gay,” Brooks told the publication. “But I didn’t make any video.” Later, after he was reportedly shown the video on an iPhone, the player clarified, “Oh, that. It was an anti-bullying video, not a gay [rights] video.”

Even more curiously, Sopoaga similarly denied taking part in the clip, even as a teammate reportedly tried to jog his memory. “I never went,” he declared. “And now someone is using my name.”

Last night, It Gets Better co-founder Dan Savage tweeted that they had removed the 49ers’ video from the project page, adding the hash tags #homophobia, #NFL, and #horseshit.

As the 49ers continued to rack up spectacularly bad press, the Ravens quietly strengthened their position. This morning, Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs told the press that he and the rest of the Ravens would welcome an openly gay player, noting, “We don’t care. Our biggest thing in the locker room is to just have fun and stay loose.”

With only two days left until kick-off, the two teams could not be more divided on this issue, and it’s become impossible to distinguish between the side and the story. Don’t be surprised if you see a groundswell of support for Baltimore. As feminists have been saying for decades, the personal is political–a message Ayanbajedo and the Ravens are delivering in support of a human rights agenda. Win or lose on Sunday, San Francisco has come out on the wrong side.


Images: Super Bowl by Chris Culliver, Brendon Ayanbadejo on Facebook, Chris Culliver via Instagram

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Alex_Parrish February 1, 2013 at 5:11 pm

I had less-than-zero interest in the superbowl until this controversy broke-out. I still have no interest in the game and will definitely not watch it, but the next time the subject comes up — and it will — I will be declaring myself a Ravens supporter. Go Ravens!

LooeyNoorey February 1, 2013 at 7:06 pm

America's Slow Suicide !

I'll be short and blunt. Jesus stated (in Luke 17) that just before His return to earth as Judge, two big "crazes" will happen worldwide at the same time: (1) insane violence ("days of Noah"), and (2) outrageous sexual perversion ("days of Lot" – see Gen. 19). Aren't beheadings, cannibalism, and school and church shootings violent? And what's more perverted than a mob trying to rape LITERAL angels (see Gen. 19 again)?! So, America, keep spitting on God. But you'd better duck fast when He spits back!!

Siddigfan February 1, 2013 at 8:35 pm

Was that "Looney Noorey" or am I reading that wrong?

Susan Wilson February 1, 2013 at 9:34 pm

@LooeyNoorey – please reread Genesis carefully. The mob seeking to "know" the angels (whom they called "men" so perhaps it wasn't quite so obvious they were angels) was the entire city of Sodom, every man, woman, and child. Even if the crime of Sodom were sexual in nature, then it had nothing to do with homosexuality, since the *women* were also involved in the seeking to know. Oh, and if you really read it carefully, you'll see that God had *already* decided to do the fire and brimstone boogie with Sodom. That's why the angels were there, after all, to tell Lot that the city was doomed. God made up his mind, participated in a debate in which Abraham wheedled him into changing the conditions of his judgement, and sent his angels to warn a man so very righteous that he tried to toss his young virgin daughters to the crowd. (If they were older than about 14, they'd have been married already, according to the customs of the time.) The same daughters he then impregnated. *That's* one of the many Biblical definitions of marriage. Others include polygamy (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, far too many others to mention), marriage by rape, marriage by purchase, marriage by conquest, marriage by murder (David and Bathsheba). In saying that marriage is one man + one woman, our culture has *already* redefined "Biblical" marriage. And lets not forget David, the man after God's own heart, whom God loved dearly, who wrote (most of) the Psalms, the ancestor of Jesus — who had a torrid 15 year love affair with Saul's son Jonathan. (2 Samuel 1:26 – "Your love to me was more wonderful than the love of women.")

Diogenes_Arktos February 2, 2013 at 2:23 am

@LooeyNoorey: Ezekiel 16:49
49 This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. [NRSV]

Susan Wilson February 2, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Kind of like the policies of the Republican Party, I'd say, Diogenes. Thanks for the reference!

LOrion February 2, 2013 at 3:33 pm

BREAKING UPDATE: See this! 49ers' Chris Culliver to work with gay, lesbian youth

Corner back pays it forward: To make up for anti-gay comments made last week, 49ers corner back Chris Culliver has signed up for sensitivity training and volunteer work with the Trevor Project, an LGBT organization that works with teen suicide prevention. And guess who will be helping with his counseling? Culliver's cousin, a gay documentary filmmaker. For more, click the link below.

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