Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl champion Brendon Ayanbadejo is a modern-day Renaissance man who understands both the pain of discrimination and the personal joy that comes from embracing an unwavering belief in equal rights for all. The three-time NFL Pro-Bowler is known as much for his prowess on the gridiron as he is for his resolute devotion to champion the right for gay couples to legally wed. Brendon was born in Chicago on September 6, 1976 to an Irish-American mother and a Nigerian father. As a child of a biracial couple, he was taunted over his parents’ right to be married, and this harsh bias left its mark. Today he sees the fight to legalize same-sex marriage as the 21st century version of the fight for racial equality, and he has thrown himself into the battle for equal rights as if every day the Super Bowl title was on the line.
Brendon’s path in life has clearly led him to the place he is today. After living in Nigeria during his very early years, Brendon, at age three, returned with his family to Chicago, where he grew up in the Lathrop Holmes housing project. It was his experiences growing up in harsh conditions on the west side of Chicago that sparked his drive to not only succeed in life, but to make a positive difference.
Brendon spent his adolescence in Santa Cruz, California, having the unique experience of living in an “LGBT friendly” college apartment building where his step-father was employed as a building director. This experience greatly contributed to Brendon’s accepting view of diverse lifestyles. From a very young age, he was taught to embrace a “different and equal” creed.
Brendon attended Cabrillo Junior College where he played football and earned Junior College All American honors. BA (as he is known to friends and teammates) was awarded a full scholarship to play football at UCLA where he made an impact on and off the field, co-founding a non-profit that offered free cultural experiences to urban youth and garnering attention as a potential pro-talent in football by being named First Team All Pac-10 and Third Team All-American.
The 1999 NFL draft gave Brendon the biggest challenge of his football career, and fueled the fighting spirit that defines his tenacious drive towards accomplishing goals. Expected to be chosen in the first few rounds, Brendon’s name was never called. As an undrafted free agent, Brendon joined several NFL teams and was cut from all of them. For the next few years, he played football on various teams in leagues throughout the world. During this time, his commitment to community service was as relentless as his drive to make the final cut for an NFL team. He continued to work with his non-profit, and also returned home to Chicago and volunteered with youth programs. After much hard work and determination, Brendon joined the Miami Dolphins in 2003 and quickly became a strong presence on their special teams. He was traded to the Chicago Bears in 2005 and was delighted to be playing in front of his home town. After helping to lead the Chicago Bears to the 2007 Super Bowl, 2007 season ended with playing in the NFL Pro Bowl, being recognized as the best player at his position in the game.
In 2008 Ayanbadejo signed with the Baltimore Ravens. Brendon made his first AFC pro bowl in 2008 for a grand total of 3 pro bowls and became only one of two special team players in NFL history to make a pro bowl for both the AFC and NFC. In 2009, he enrolled in the MBA program at the University of Baltimore, intent on pursuing his ultimate career goal of becoming a Division 1 athletic director, preferably at his alma mater, UCLA. After successfully completing three courses at UB, Brendon transferred to the executive STARMBA program at George Washington University, from which he plans to graduate in June 2013.
Meanwhile, as a Ravens special teams captain and veteran leader, Brendon has had the opportunity to mentor young players and to set an example as a team leader whose actions on and off the field are guided by a solid set of core values. He has modeled these values to players, fans, local youth and university students by continuing his community service work, by being an active supporter of the NFL Play 60 program, and by presenting leadership workshops on college campuses.
But it was the response he received to a 2009 blog he wrote that sent BA on a new journey of leadership. Shortly after joining the Baltimore Ravens, Brendon’s article supporting the legalization of same-sex marriage appeared in the Huffington Post. He never dreamed that article would be the spark that sent him down a new road as a gay rights spokesperson. As a heterosexual and a professional athlete, Brendon has a pulpit and an audience that traditional gay rights activists do not easily reach. Since 2009, he has turned the tide of support by bringing the issue of equality for gay Americans to the forefront of conversations everywhere from locker rooms to Capitol Hill. He worked closely with Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley to rally support for legalizing gay marriage. In November 2012, Marylanders voted to approve civil marriage rights for same-sex couples, becoming the first state to do so. Much of the credit for the vote has been given to Brendon for giving his voice to the issue. He has since been honored by being named an ambassador by Athlete Ally, by being named Sports Illustrated Sports Activist of the Year and being named an “honorary gay” by GQ magazine. He recently began work with President Obama’s advisor on LGBT issues, Tonya Robinson, and will soon be called to testify before Congress in support of ensuring equal rights for this population of Americans.
Brendon and his longtime partner Natalee Uzcategui, have two children and live in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida during the off-season.