Freedom of favorable speech by Gregory Allen



NFL linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo received caustic criticism recently for his support of marriage equality. Maryland pastor and state house of delegates-member Emmett C. Burns Jr. (D-Baltimore County) wrote the following of Ayanbadejo’s exercise of free speech, “‘I find it inconceivable that one of your players, Mr. Brendon Ayanbadejo would publicly endorse Same-Sex marriage, specifically as a Raven Football player.'”

The letter was obtained by WBAL-TV and referenced by Dan Wetzel in his Yahoo! article “Maryland politician out of line for attacking Brendon Ayanbadejo’s support of gay marriage.” Wetzel cites that Burns attempted to force the Baltimore football franchise into silencing its player and depriving him of his First Amendment rights, writing, “Burns went nuts last week, firing off a letter on Maryland House of Delegate letterhead to Ravens owner Steven Bisciotti seeking action against Ayanbadejo.”
Wetzel isn’t being overly-dramatic when claiming the pastor’s words are out of line, indeed they are. The pastor has some manner of public recognition, so following his offered logic, Burns would have to forfeit his constitutionally protected religious beliefs because of his own manipulation of celebrity to share them. But few, if anyone, would suggest such a personal intrusion seriously (except of course, Burns).
Burns makes clear his intentions for censorship in the following quote, “‘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.'”As Dan Wetzel reminds readers, New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow has defined his professional and collegiate career wearing his Christian faith and beliefs publicly.

But, the Baltimore Ravens’ player may have a more diverse history of controversial remarks, as the Yahoo! News article cites his history, “He’s written columns for his hometown paper, the Santa Cruz Sentinel. He’s fought for federal legislation requiring schools to monitor kids’ physical activities and promote proper nutrition. He’s worked relentlessly on environmental sustainability issues.”

Wetzel also provides the following, and conclusive information: as Maryland has recently approved same-sex marriage, and that it now faces a ballot in November elections; Burns is desperate and biased – as he himself helped approved the coming ballot to try and overturn Maryland’s step toward marriage equality.

If a professional athlete’s actions are “inconceivable” in these matters. . . it’s because he’s actually taking the time to care about issues that may not directly involve his image or in fact be placing it in the unfavorable views of others to support a greater good.

Brendon Ayanbadejo does not sacrifice his freedom of speech because he has attained celebrity as a professional athlete. He does not have to sacrifice his right to free speech because it is unfavorable to the opinions of another. Free speech used to support freedom should, however, receive special attention, and Ayanbadejo’s use of his time and celebrity to draw attention to issues that affect others is far more honorable than it is reprehensible.