NFL Players Have Free Speech Rights, Too

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Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe sent a spirited letter to the Baltimore County official who took exception to a Ravens linebacker's open support for a gay marriage initiative. (AP)
Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe sent a spirited letter to the Baltimore County official who took exception to a Ravens linebacker's support for a gay marriage initiative. (AP)

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo has been supportive of a Maryland ballot initiative that would legalize gay marriage in that state. He has appeared in a TV ad on behalf of the measure.

Baltimore County delegate Emmett C. Burns, Jr., a Democrat, felt that was inappropriate. In fact, he felt "appalled and abashed," and a little over a week ago, he wrote Mr. Ayanbadejo's employer, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, to say so. Mr. Burns urged Mr. Bisciotti to "inhibit the expression" of his linebacker and to "order him to cease and desist."

Ravens General Manager Dick Cass replied to Mr. Burns. He said the team supported their employee's right to free speech under the First Amendment, which was pretty cool, since it would not have been unprecedented for the owner of a professional sports team to call a talkative player into his office, close the door loudly and tell him to shut up.

Emmett C. Burns, Jr. no doubt wishes this exchange between himself and the Ravens had remained a local matter, but it didn’t. That's because Chris Kluwe, who kicks footballs on behalf of the Minnesota Vikings, got word of the controversy and made public an entertaining, R-rated reply to Mr. Burns. In one of the letter's gentler lines, Kluwe called Burns "mind-bogglingly stupid."

He also assured Mr. Burns that were gay citizens to gain the right to marry in Maryland, they wouldn't "overthrow the government in an orgy of hedonistic debauchery because all of a sudden they have the same legal rights as the other 90 percent of the population."

On Sunday, Mr. Burns backed down. Sort of. He wrote that "upon consideration," he'd decided that the First Amendment does apply to pro football players.

It's a fine and encouraging development that Mr. Burns has found his way to that conclusion, even if getting there required "consideration."

It's also encouraging that at least two employers in the world of sports, the Ravens and the Vikings, have publically endorsed the exercise of free speech by their employees in support of equal rights.

We cannot necessarily count on everybody employed by a pro sports franchise to share our views, whatever those views may be, and we certainly can't count on them to be as entertaining as Chris Kluwe was in his letter, but football players – and everybody else – ought to be free to squawk when they are moved to do so.

This segment aired on September 15, 2012.

Bill Littlefield Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.



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