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La Nacion, Argentina

The Other Face of the Super Bowl

By Ezequiel Fernández Moores

Translated By Natalie Legros

6 February 2013

Edited by Gillian Palmer

Argentina - La Nacion - Original Article (Spanish)

The son of a Nigerian and an Irish-American, Brendon Ayanbadejo was "white" in the black community and "black" in the white community. The Nigerian community did not consider him their own but rather "African-American." Brendon grew up on the University of California's campus in Santa Cruz. There his grandfather led the LGBT center for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people, with whom he lived for years. On Jan. 20, 2012 his team, the Baltimore Ravens, qualified for the Super Bowl, the grand finale of football that paralyzes the United States. On that same night at four in the morning, the question was sent by mail to three known same-sex marriage activists in their country: "Is there something that can be done to take advantage of the Super Bowl?"

The San Francisco 49ers, the other Super Bowl finalists that played in New Orleans last Sunday, became the first NFL team to give official support to same-sex marriage a few months ago. The topic became inevitable during the lead-up to the Super Bowl. Chris Culliver of the 49ers broke from political correctness and said, contemptuously, that he was not able to share a locker room with gays. In 1975 David Kopay, who played for the 49ers, was the first football player to declare himself gay. Two more cases were hardly remembered, until Kwame Harris, a 49ers player since 2007, was arrested by the police, accused of hitting his boyfriend only hours before Sunday's Super Bowl. “The derogatory comments I made yesterday,” Culliver said, “were a reflection of thoughts in my head, but they are not how I feel. It has taken me seeing them in print to realize that they are hurtful and ugly. Those discriminating feelings are truly not in my heart. Further, I apologize to those who I have hurt and offended, and I pledge to learn and grow from this experience.”

The apology would have been unnecessary years ago. The NFL always boasted about being Americans' "macho sport." "Weak people don't play football,"* former president Theodore Roosevelt said at the start of the 20th century. A century later, Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States, decided to state hours after the Super Bowl that if he had sons he wouldn't want them to play professional football because of its violence. New medical studies in the last few months have shown that the NFL suffers an elevated number of cases of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive illness that kills brain cells), paraplegia, Alzheimer's, depression and even suicide. For instance, CTE was detected in the brain of Junior Seau, an ex-star of the NFL who committed suicide last May. Two weeks earlier, Ray Easterling, a former Atlantic Falcons player, had done the same thing. Ed Reed, friend of Ayanbadejo in the Ravens, accounted for Obama. “Sometimes I wake up and I think, where did my memory go?” he said. “I play so my son doesn't have to.”** Seau's family sued the NFL. More than 4,000 families of dead or living former players with physical and psychiatric problems did the same. They ask for a global reimbursement of $1.5 billion. They accuse the NFL, a sport suspected of doping, of not having done enough to avoid fatal blows.

The Super Bowl, which occurred last Sunday, blackout aside, manages to put on a formidable show every year. And the NFL, the most conservative sports management in the United States, diminished regulations and reinforced medical controls. But, at the moment, it seems stopped in time — as it was in 1963, when its programming remained unchanged after the assassination of President John Kennedy. It would have been the same after the Sept. 11 attack on the Twin Towers, until the suspension of baseball made the NFL realize that its decision would draw ridicule. It wasn't afraid of doing it last December, when Kansas City went ahead with a game just hours after one of their players, Jovan Belcher, killed his girlfriend and the mother of his three-year-old son, later committing suicide before one of the team technicians. During a break, Bob Costas, famous NBC commentator, talked about the weapon culture in the United States. The next day Hank Williams, a Fox News journalist who compared Obama to Hitler, affirmed that NBC needed to fire Costas.

On Saturday, in the lead-up to the Super Bowl, the NFL celebrated traditional gospel. Among the guests were various celebrities and people with strong anti-gay beliefs: Fantasia Barrino ("Gay marriage is proof the world is [sic] gone mad"), Kirk Franklin (voice of the "conversion" of gays to heterosexuals), pastor Donnie McClurkin ("Gays and lesbians are vampires") and bishop Paul Morton (of violent anti-gay sermons), among others. Last August, a known religious leader from the black community and Democrat, Emmett C. Burns Jr., got upset when he heard of Ayanbadejo joining Maryland’s campaign to pass a same-sex marriage law in the state. Burns wrote to Dick Cass and Steve Bisciotti, president and owner of the Ravens, respectively. "I find it inconceivable that one of your players, Mr. Brendon Ayanbadejo would publicly endorse Same-Sex marriage, specifically as a Raven Football player. I am requesting that you take the necessary action, as a National Football League Owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employees and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions. I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing." The sport, affirmed Burns, "is strictly for pride, entertainment and excitement."

Cass and Bisciotti responded, "Brendon, you are a great person. You believe in yourself. This team doesn't believe in any form of discrimination. Here you have a tremendous platform. Use it. And continue being yourself with that ability you have to try to change the world."* Ayanbadejo's most notable defense came, however, from another NFL player, Chris Kluwe of the Minnesota Vikings. Kluwe cited to Burns the first amendment of the Constitution, on freedom of speech, and seemed to call to mind Abraham Lincoln upon asking if perhaps the "civil rights struggles of the past 200 years" meant nothing to him. Ayanbadejo's parents' interracial marriage was also prohibited decades ago. Ayanbadejo, who is heterosexual and has two kids, says that he does not fight for gay rights but rather for human rights. That was also the meaning of Kluwe's response, one of whose paragraphs is cited as perhaps the most convincing political message from an athlete in the United States after Muhammad Ali's refusal to fight in Vietnam, saying that "the real enemy of my people is here."

Kluwe's text, which includes some swear words, says the following: “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, childcare tax credits, family and medical leave to take care of loved ones and COBRA health care for spouses and children. You know what having these rights will make gay Americans? Full-fledged citizens, just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that that entails.”

* Editor’s Note: This quote, while accurately translated, could not be verified.
** Editor’s Note: This quote, while accurately translated, could not be verified.



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