The Ravens released linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo yesterday afternoon, after five seasons in Baltimore. Ayanbadejo spent most of his tenure on special teams, and never once made the kind of news for his play that he did for his vocal support of a Maryland same-sex marriage ballot initiative. So maybe it's fitting that just hours into his free agency, Ayanbadejo's pro-gay-rights stance is kicking up another storm—this time not entirely of his own doing.
Ayanbadejo was in New York when he heard of his release, preparing to attend PFLAG's Straight for Equality Gala, where he was honored alongside Chris Kluwe. And on the red carpet, Ayanbadejo gave a quote to Newsday that certainly sounds like he believes his outspoken nature was at least partially to blame for his cut.
“I was a vocal guy and garnered a lot of attention. I brought a lot of issues with me to the Super Bowl and the issues came up at the Super Bowl. My bark is louder than my bite. 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?”
In the same interview, Ayanbadejo admitted he's not the player he used to be, and he knows the business of football means he'd easily replaced with someone younger and cheaper. But that's not how the "gotcha" game works. The internet played its game of telephone, passing around the story, pruning out all the quotes except the one that makes the Ravens look bad.
The Ravens quickly issued a statement saying Ayanbadejo's release "has everything to do with football." (He was due nearly $1 million in base salary next season, and will turn 37 in September.) And Ayanbadejo took to Twitter last night, and an interview with the Baltimore Sun this morning, in a damage control effort that was half walking back his quote, half repeating the parts of his earlier interview that had been ignored.
"The Ravens have been backing me, they knew my stance for years and have been facilitating me and organizing me with LGBT and set me up with Equality Maryland. They helped me. If they didn't like what I was doing, they would have cut me a long time ago."
Ayanbadejo would reiterate what he told Newsday, that his age and contract were the deciding factors. "You can find somebody to do what I did for less than half that value," he said. Ayanbadejo stuck by his contention that jumping into social issues can be a minefield in the NFL, but interestingly, clarified that it's the league itself and not the Ravens who'd prefer players toe the company line.
"I think equality rights is inherently bigger than football, but in no way was I a distraction for my team. It was a balancing act. I was there to play football. I was also there to promote positive issues, things bigger than football. The NFL doesn't really want that. I was saying the NFL as a whole organization, not just the Ravens. The NFL isn't talking about politics, immigration policies, war and AIDS. The NFL doesn't touch those things. The NFL keeps it safe, talking about charities for kids and those less fortunate, cancer, stuff like that. I was touching on issues bigger than football."
So we're good now? Everything cleared up? At least some valuable lessons have been drawn. Ayanbadejo's learned about not crying wolf, and about quotes being taken out of context. The Ravens learned it's possible to get bad publicity even after doing the right thing. And we've all learned that gay rights and the NFL make such a potent mixture, it can stir up controversies about the controversy.