This sunday a new Super Bowl champion will be crowned… or depending on what Seattle brings to the field, we could just be witnessing a consecutive Super Bowl win for the Seahawks. While both teams have faced their share of criticism this season from the Patriots’ “Deflategate” scandal to Marshawn Lynth’s unforgettable interviews – if you even want to call them that – we expect the respective teams will bring their A-game for the biggest football game of the year. And to top it all off, Katy Perry will take stage for a highly anticipated half-time show – rumor has it rap legend and innovative artist Missy Elliott will be making a guest appearance.
So in the spirit of Super Bowl Sunday, we’re celebrating an even better victory: these 10 NFL stars stepped up to the plate to support their LGBT family and friends as well as the LGBT community at whole, standing in solidarity to promote equality, the right to marry and the right to love. Check out our Top 10 NFL Allies:
Ayanbadejo, former Ravens linebacker, has long been a LGBT activist. The former Super Bowl champ says his parents sparked his interest in equality and LGBT rights issues, being a part of an era when the couple's interracial marriage was the center of inequality. He says, "The LGBT movement is a continuation of the civil rights movement. Now it is LGBT time." He continues to campaign for equality and same-sex marriage.
Wide receiver Donte Stallworth was once "very homophobic," and even went as far as saying, "I couldn't even be in the same room with a gay man." After experiencing hate in his own personal life, he then realized the pain he'd inflicted on members of the gay community and "felt like an idiot," afterwards. He's since stood up for openly gay athletes like Michael Sam and is encouraging others to overcome homophobia, especially in the NFL.
After eleven seasons in the National Football League, Fujita retired a New Orleans Saint and also, a very vocal LGBT rights activist. Back in 2009 he expressed, " I think for me it was a cause that I truly believe in. By in large in this country the issue of gay rights and equality should be past the point of debate. Really, there should be no debate anymore. For me, in my small platform as a professional football player, I understand that my time in the spotlight is probably limited. The more times you have to lend your name to a cause you believe in, you should do that." He's vowed not to stay silent on LGBT issues.
Kluwe's no stranger to attention when it comes to LGBT rights. He's known as Minnesota Vikings' former punter and an outspoken advocate for same-sex marriage and gay rights. But his advocacy hasn't been met without controversy. In early 2014, he alleged his former coach Mike Priefer made offensive remarks towards the LGBT community. He's speculated that his advocacy may have been the reason he was cut from the team. The controversial remarks made by Priefer sparked a lawsuit, resulting in a settlement in which the Vikings will make donations to gay rights-related charities.
Back in 2011, Michael Irvin graced the cover of Out Magazine. Inside the magazine, he revealed that his brother, Vaughn, who passed away in 2006 of stomach cancer, was gay. Though it was something he and his family never talked about for a long time, the former Cowboy expressed that in Vaughn's memory, he'd openly support equality and gay players in the NFL. In the interview, published before Michael Sam's coming out, the Hall of Famer stated that "if anyone comes out in [the] top four major sports, I will absolutely support him."
In 2011, Strahan too joined the LGBT equality movement, filming a PSA in support of the New Yorkers for Marriage Equality campaign. His belief: "It's unfair to stop committed couples from getting married." At one point, the former Giants defensive end faced rumors of being gay, but even with the drama of rumors, he expressed, "I have plenty of gay friends and I don't judge them. I want them to have all the same rights I have and all the opportunities I have to be in a relationship, a great relationship, with the person that they are in love with."
NFL cornerback Antonio Cromartie made history in 2007: he's credited with the longest play in NFL history, returning a missed field goal for 109.88 yards. But he made NFL history elsewhere too, becoming the first NFL player to pose for the NOH8 campaign, expressing his support for the LGBT community.
Safety Bret Lockett is another NFL player who took part in the popular NOH8 campaign. What made Lockett join the cause? He says he was once bullied in high school. It seems the NFL player, model and musician knows what it feels like to be in the shoes of the LGBT community in a way, having gone through bullying first hand. He stands up for what he believes is right, saying, "We need to start lifting people up instead of trying to bring them down."
While linebacker Nic Harris has offered little to no words at all in regards to LGBT equality and support, his actions definitely speak louder than his words. In 2011, Harris lent his face to the NOH8 campaign as well, posing in his then-team's colors, neon blue, "blocking" off the hate. In silently joining the campaign, he's offered his support to the LGBT community and we for sure welcome him for it.
After a long time of battling with his views on same-sex marriage and religion, Willig finally made his decision to be a supporter of LGBT rights. Along with many other NFL players, the former NFL right tackle took part in the NOH8 campaign, standing in solidarity with the LGBT community and many of his gay friends who he'd known all his life. Willig shared his views in 2012: "I didn’t want to come out here and say, ‘Yeah, this is something I’ve always been for.’ I wanted to be honest. I am the evolution of middle America. People are struggling with how they grew up and how their parents have seen things. And I wanted to talk about my experiences, and that I evolved into feeling that equality and treating everyone the same is the utmost important thing.”