NFL’s Homophobic Image Shifting After Passionate Public Support of Players

In the wake of Brendon Ayanbadejo’s and Chris Kluwe’s very passionate and very public endorsement of marriage equality, the NFL is experiencing a change in the way it’s perceived — from a bunch of knuckle-dragging homophobes  to a warmer, gay-friendlier sports outfit.

“These guys are heroes,” marriage equality advocate Brian Ellner told The New York Times. “This kind of thing has never happened before. It matters because Brendon and Chris are professional athletes who are uniquely positioned to help shape opinions and say to fans, to people who may not be focused on this, that gays are just like you and me.”

While the actions of a couple of players won’t change the National Football League over night, the tide is certainly shifting. The San Francisco 49ers became the first team to film an “It Gets Better” PSA while GLAAD and Athlete Ally are offering an “open door” policy for any pro athlete who has questions or concerns about LGBT issues. A number of former and current players have also voiced their support including Scott Fujita, Michael Strahan and Nic Harris, as well as Hall of Famer Michael Irvin and Houston Texans’ linebacker Connor Barwin, both of whom have gay brothers.

“I’d say the majority of players are siding with me, that all people have a right tand be happy,” Ayanbadejo said in a phone interview with the Times. “That’s really amazing. I’m very happy to see the tides changing in the positive.”

Kluwe, whose brother-in-law is gay, echoed Ayanbadejo’s sentiments,“I think the culture in the N.F.L. has become a lot more tolerant in the last 10 years or so. There’s a younger generation coming in every year or two, and they make me hopeful of the future.”

Both Kluwe and Ayanbadejo play in states where gay marriage is on the ballot in November — Minnesota and Maryland, respectively — and one can only hope their endorsement for equality will have a positive  influence on voters.

“I think it’s a transformational moment and seismic shift to see so many folks in the world of sports stepping up and speaking out in support of equality and fairness and, in this instance, marriage equality,” Ellner noted. “It really demonstrates what we know, and what’s apparent in the polls, and that the world has changed.”