The Ravens are standing behind free speech and linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo.
This week, Ayanbadejo sparked a political debate that began with same-sex marriage and has since branched into the freedom of speech.
Ayanbadejo has been a supporter of same-sex marriage for several years. He has tweeted about the issue, written a column for Huffington Post in 2009 and appeared in a pair of YouTube videos advocating for the cause, including for the organization Equality Maryland.
He most recently contributed a pair of Ravens tickets to a fundraiser for Marylanders For Marriage Equality. That upset Maryland Delegate Emmett Burns (Baltimore County), who addressed a letter to Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti and asked him to intervene.
"Many of my constituents and your football supporters are appalled and aghast that a member of the Ravens Football Team would step into this controversial divide and try to sway public opinion one way or the other," Burns wrote in a letter obtained by WBAL-TV.
"Many of your fans are opposed to such a view and feel it has no place in a sport that is strictly for pride, entertainment and excitement. I believe Mr. Ayanbadejo should concentrate on football and steer clear of dividing the fan base."
Upon seeing the letter, Ayanbadejo said he was "shocked."
"For him to be a delegate, I was kind of shocked that he would want to silence me and tell me to stick to football in a free country," he said. "People have died to have those rights to be able to voice those opinions – no matter what their opinions are."
After speaking with Bisciotti, President Dick Cass told BaltimoreRavens.com that they will write Burns a response.
"We support Brendon's right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment," Cass said.
Ayanbadejo was nervous that his actions could impact the Ravens' fan base. That was until Cass stopped him in the hallway outside the team's dining room Friday afternoon. Ayanbadejo recounted their exchange to a group of reporters* *immediately afterwards.
"[He said] we're in support of you and it's good that you're able to voice your opinion and say how you feel," Ayanbadejo said. "Dick personally told me, 'We're not an organization that discriminates.'"
Ayanbadejo said the two talked about the changing sentiment about same-sex marriage, both nationally and within locker rooms. The conversation left Ayanbadejo ecstatic.
"It really made my day that Dick Cass went out of his way to talk to me today and support me, and that it came down from Mr. Bisciotti," he said. "The Ravens organization is everything that I ever thought it was. It kind of made me feel even deeper rooted in this organization."
Ayanbadejo feels he has a personal connection to the issue of same-sex marriage after feeling discrimination as a child. He has a Nigerian father and an Irish mother.
"Being raised as an interracial child, there was always an issue of 'Is he black? Is he white? Is he African?'" Ayanbadejo said. "I grew up and became my own self and felt like I belonged to everybody.
"So when there was a discrimination issue, I could relate and I could understand whatever the issue was. I felt like I've been there, I've been in your shoes. It might be, 'No, I'm not gay,' but because I'm interracial I can identify with them. It really made me empathetic to different issues, especially when it came to equality."