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January 31, 2013
Ravens LB Ayanbadejo: Culliver's anti-gay comments are chance for 'learning experience'

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NEW ORLEANS -- Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo was a popular figure when the team met media at its hotel this morning. Ayanbadejo, a vocal supporter of gay rights, was asked about his reaction when he heard the comments made Tuesday by 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver that gays would not be welcome in the 49ers' locker room. Here is Ayanbadejo's response in full:

"You know, I think that in San Francisco, and being from the Bay Area myself, that's something that we really try to preach -- love and acceptance of everybody. And so I couldn't really even say anything negative to the young man. It's just one of those things where you have to live and you have to learn. And I said earlier on (a TV broadcast) -- in the words of Martin Luther King, you can't fight hate with hate. You have to fight hate with love. We've all made our mistakes, we've all been there and done certain things, and we've hurt people regardless if we meant to do it or not. But more than anything it's an opportunity to have a learning experience.

"I've preached since day one to my teammates that there's certain words you can't say. And when they're around me they know -- if B.A.'s around, you can't say 'gay' in a derogatory manner, you can't say the three-letter 'f' word. And I tell them, I go, you can't say those things. And if people hear you say those things, regardless if you mean them or not, they're going to fry you. And if it's in a public arena your whole reputation's going to be roasted for it.

So we've kind of seen it happen this time. So we just have to all learn from what happened, from this mistake. He apologized and hopefully he'll learn. And he's in the Bay Area, and it's really important there, it's pertinent there. So I think he's going to learn and he's going to grow to be a better person for it."

Culliver made the anti-gay comments to a radio host during Media Day on Tuesday, saying: "I don't do the gay guys, man. I don't do that. No, we don't got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do. Can't be with that sweet stuff. Nah ... can't be ... in the locker room, man. Nah." He issued an apology Wednesday evening, hours after the 49ers issued a statement rejecting Culliver's comments.

Ayanbadejo, 36, who attended high school in Santa Cruz, has been a national story in recent months for his backing of same-sex unions, including vocally supporting a successful vote for marriage equality in Maryland. He largely shunned the topic during Media Day, saying then that he felt the focus this week should be on football, but was effusive with his answers today.

Asked if he believes Culliver's comments represent a common feeling among NFL players, Ayanbadejo said: "Yeah, it's pretty normal. It's pretty normal behavior."

The 49ers and homosexuality in the NFL had already been linked in the news this week when former 49ers offensive lineman Kwame Harris appeared in San Mateo County Superior Court on charges that he assaulted an ex-boyfriend.

Asked how close he thinks the NFL is to having a gay player come out while playing, Ayanbadejo said: "I don't know. I really, honestly don't know. I just know that the San Francisco 49ers organization did an 'It Gets Better' campaign, and the Baltimore Ravens preach that we don't accept discrimination in any way. So with two teams like that -- and we're here in the Super Bowl -- with organizations like that setting the precedence for society and the way that there should be inclusiveness in sports, hopefully we're paving the way to having people just be who they are."

-- Matt Kawahara



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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