“Now is the time…” — Martin Luther King, Aug. 28, 1963
Brendon Ayanbadejo is wrong.
It is painful to say that. Ayanbadejo’s heart is in a good place and the advice he gave last week on MSNBC’s The Ed Show was practical and well intentioned. But mainly, yes, it was wrong.
Here’s the back story. It seems NFL prospect Nick Kasa recently told ESPN Radio that he was asked in an interview with a team he won’t specify whether he is married, if he has a girlfriend and whether he likes girls. It was a spectacularly stupid line of inquiry for two reasons.
One: It has nothing to do with his abilities as a football player.
Two: It’s fresh evidence of the NFL’s estrangement from the 21st century, coming as it does in the wake of Chris Culliver of the San Francisco 49ers — repeat: the San Francisco 49ers — dismissing the notion of a gay player by saying, “Can’t be with that sweet stuff. Nah … can’t be … in the locker room…”
Enter Ayanbadejo, a Baltimore Ravens linebacker and outspoken proponent of gay rights. What, he was asked, should a prospective player do if he is gay and some team asks if he likes girls? Ayanbadejo’s advice? Lie.
“I think players need to say that they’re straight right now,” he said. “You need to get drafted as high as you can get drafted, get the money while you can.”
“Maybe later,” he added, “once you establish yourself and when we break down some of these walls in the NFL, then players will be more comfortable to really be who they are.” Eventually, he said, perhaps football will see “our Jackie Robinson, our pioneer for gay rights and equality.”
But the thing is, Jackie Robinson did not come along after the walls had been broken down. He was the one swinging the sledgehammer. The idea that progress must wait for an opportune time, that a trailblazer should defer trailblazing till he makes some money, reflects a misunderstanding of what social change is and how it is made.