Linebacker and special teams stud Brendon Ayanbadejo was cut by the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday, but he's claiming there is more than meets the eye to his release from the organization.
Honored at the Straight for Equality Gala in Manhattan Thursday night, Ayanbadejo stated that he believes his off-field exploits—namely, his outspoken participation in the gay-rights movement—played a part in his departure.
“My bark is louder than my bite,” Ayanbadejo said in an interview with Newsday's Tom Rock. “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?”
The 36-year-old veteran is a three-time Pro Bowler but has not made the team since 2008. While not calling out the organization completely, Ayanbadejo noted that, all things being equal, the team could simply find equally capable players without some of the unwanted attention.
UPDATE: Friday, April 5 at 8:25 a.m. ET by Tim Daniels
Ayanbadejo, speaking with Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun Friday morning, now says he doesn't believe his stance on equality rights was the reason for his release from the Ravens. He also gave props to the team for standing behind him for as long as it did.
"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," said Ayanbadejo, who was due a $940,000 base salary this year entering the second year of a three-year, $3.22 million contract. "If they didn't like what I was doing, they would have cut me a long time ago. I'm a special-teams player and you can find somebody to do what I did for less than half that value. They can find someone to do the same job. I was the most productive player on special teams and the only linebacker who played in every single game. I'm not saying I didn't bring any value. What I was saying about my bark is louder than my bite is I was talking more that I was productive and it makes you expendable."
The special teams star furthered his stance in his conversation with the Baltimore Sun:
"No team wants any situation to be bigger than football. 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. I think the Ravens think I'm mad at them, but I'm absolutely not. I love the Ravens. When I say my bark was louder than my bite, I'm saying I'm not the player I once was and the Ravens did the right thing. They were justified. I have no problem with them at all."
---End of update---
A longstanding proponent of gay marriage, Ayanbadejo has been in the news recently with his activism.
Late last month, he spoke on the steps of the Supreme Court as the justices heard arguments on the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, which includes a provision that limits marriage to opposite-sex couples—essentially a gay-marriage ban.
Ayanbadejo compared the case to the lifting of an interracial marriage ban in the 1960s, telling the gatherers they were on the "right side" of history. Perhaps most movingly, he said he dreamed openly of a day he could openly speak with a gay teammate about his family.
Said Ayanbadejo (via USA Today), "I talk to that man about my wife and kids and one day that man is going to talk to me about his husband and his kids."
It's stances like these that have made Brendon Ayanbadejo both a hero in political circles and a villain for those who oppose. His role in the gay-rights community has even caught the attention—and ire—of Baltimore County officials.
Last September, Maryland state delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr. fired off a letter to Steve Bisciotti, current majority owner of the Ravens, to silence his outspoken employee. Burns later backed off his statements after considerable backlash, but the message was clear: Not everyone approves of Ayanbadejo's stance and off-field work.
Ravens spokesman Kevin Byrne said (via Newsday) that Ayanbadejo's stance played no part in the decision:
We are surprised that Brendon would indicate that. We have always respected Brendon's opinions and his right to express them. He was released for football reasons, period.
We may never know what really happened. But one thing is for sure: Activism aside, Ayanbadejo is out of a job for now.