The presidential political debates begin Wednesday night. And the debate inside the Ravens locker room is warming up too.
Linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo and center Matt Birk have waded into the debate over gay marriage. Ayanbadejo is in favor. Birk is against.
I'm not here to debate the subject, nor to give one player a podium to express their political beliefs.
I am here to say that I find it incredibly cool that we have this display of democracy within the cocoon of the Ravens locker room, and to say that I respect how each side is going about this.
"What are the chances that we're on the same team, right?" Ayanbadejo said with a laugh. "Let's have a mature conversation about this and see where it takes us."
I'm not of the belief that NFL athletes should only talk about football. To pretend that they're big, burly robots that shouldn't have another thought in their head, or the ability to express them, is foolish.
As Ayanbadejo told a fan on Twitter Monday night, "There's more to life than [football]."
For quick background, this whole issue took center stage about a month ago when Maryland Delegate Emmett Burns (Baltimore County) wrote a letter to Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti advocating for a gag order on Ayanbadejo's advocacy of gay marriage.
The Ravens backed Ayanbadejo's right to free speech and the subject officially entered the NFL landscape.
This weekend, Birk waded in himself with an opinion piece for the Minnesota Star-Tribune, which has continued the discourse.
I wondered whether this debate* *was actually being had between Birk and Ayanbadejo. The answer is not yet, but they may.
Birk doesn't seem in a rush: "I took a stance, like other guys have done before me, and in doing so, it's really not my aim, it's not my goal to engage in any debates with any one person or persons."
Ayanbadejo isn't ruling it out. "If it organically happens. I'm not going to seek Birk out in the parking lot. If it happens – we have some free time or we're eating lunch one day – we'll talk about it."
Head Coach John Harbaugh said he doesn't encourage or discourage political discourse on the team.
"As long as everybody respects everybody else's opinion, that's the main thing," Harbaugh said. "We talk about politics, religion, all those kinds of things, movies, music. It's OK to have an opinion; it's really important to respect everybody else's opinion."
Well said, Coach.
That's what I really like about the discussion thus far. Birk and Ayanbadejo may not agree, but there's mutual respect between two of the Ravens' more thoughtful, well-spoken figures.
"I have known Brendon for a while, I played with his brother, and I like Brendon, and I respect him a lot," Birk said.
"I love Birky. I love seeing his [six] kids and interacting with his kids when they're here. I call them the Birkys," Ayanbadejo said. "He's a family guy. I'm a family guy. Between us we have like 20 kids. We just want to do what's best for our children.
"I guess we have different philosophies on how to do it. But I can appreciate the essence of his message. Fundamentally we have different beliefs and ideas of what's right, but at the core of what we're trying to do is make a better country and build the family unit. It's just a different way of doing it."
Ayanbadejo told his Twitter followers the same thing late last night, as he responded to many fans regarding the issue.