NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday defended Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, whose public support for gay marriage prompted a Maryland state lawmaker to write a letter to the team’s owner asking him to silence his player.
“I think in this day and age, people are going to speak up about what they think is important. They speak as individuals and that’s an important part of democracy,” Goodell said at POLITICO’s Playbook’s Lunch with Mike Allen.
Maryland Assembly Delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr. sent a letter last week to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti asking that he force Ayanbadejo to “inhibit such expressions” in support of gay marriage.
On Wednesday, Ayanbadejo wrote in anemail he sent through a same-sex marriage group, Marylanders for Equality, that his league and fans have stood behind him and he appreciates their support.
“I was not silenced. In fact, what happened instead was pretty amazing — thousands of people joined me and spoke out in support of marriage equality. I even received messages from Steelers fans! Instead of being silenced, my team and my league stood with me in support,” Ayanbadejo wrote.
Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe wrote a letter to Burns Friday blasting him for ripping Ayanbadejo.
“What on earth would possess you to be so mind-boggingly stupid? It baffles me that a man such as yourself, a man who relies on that same First Amendment to pursue your own religious studies without fear of persecution from the state, could somehow justify stifling another person’s right to speech. To call that hypocritical would be to do a disservice to the word,” Kluwe wrote.
Goodell also spoke Wednesday about the controversy over concussions in the NFL.
When Allen asked whether the public attention has added “a whole new dimension” to his job that his predecessors didn’t have to deal with, Goodell said that public health and safety has “always been a priority.”
“But the public attention to it has gone up since,” Allen said. ”Well, the public attention was there,” Goodell answered.
Goodell noted that in 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt met with leaders of the country’s largest collegiate football programs after several recent deaths in the sport. His son, Teddy Jr., was also injured that year while playing football at Harvard.
“The changes they made led to the NCAA,” Goodell said. “They made changes that made it safer. And interestingly enough, one of those changes led to the creation of the forward pass, which proved you can make the game safer and more exciting. And that’s what we’re focusing on — make the game safer and more exciting.”