CNN Thanks Gay Rights Activist for His Work

CNN thinks the Super Bowl has become "a platform for the culture wars," but they are using that "platform" to support causes like gay marriage.

The morning after the Super Bowl, CNN's openly-gay anchor Don Lemon interviewed gay rights activist and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo and thanked him for his work. No guest from the other side was brought on.

Lemon didn't ask tough questions but simply enabled the activist to broadcast his message unopposed.

"Why have you chosen this Super Bowl to talk about, to make a platform out of marriage equality?" was Lemon's first question. Then he asked his guest to compare the gay rights movement to the civil rights movement.

"You said it's equal rights. When people equate it to the civil rights movement, some people are offended by that. Others see it as the same thing. What do you make of it?"

Later, Lemon asked him to refute charges that homosexuality is immoral: "When you hear people say that it's – it's an abomination, that it's in a – that it's a sin and that it's abnormal, what do you say to that?"

Lemon quoted country music artist Chely Wright gushing over Ayanbadejo, and finished by thanking his guest for his work: "And a lot of people are thanking you around the country and around the world. I agree, I appreciate it, sir."

A transcript of the segment, which aired on February 4 on CNN Newsroom at 10:26 a.m. EST, is as follows:

CAROL COSTELLO: Super Bowl is not longer just a football game. It's become like a platform for the culture wars, including gay rights. Don Lemon managed to snag an interview with Brendon Ayanbadejo, and he joins us with that interview. Good morning, Don.

DON LEMON: Hey good morning to you, Carol. Thank you so much. You know, the Super Bowl is no longer just a game of football besides the commercials and the star performances. It's becoming really a cultural war, a new battlefield for social issues including same-sex marriage.

(...)

LEMON: Brendon, you have been very outspoken about marriage equality for a very long time. You grew up around gay people, people thought that you were gay and some still think that you are. You are not, but you are still a proponent for gay rights and a supporter of gay people. We are -- we have been Twitter buddies. We have been friends for a little bit, chatting by text and you have been wanting to come on CNN, but your schedule has been busy. Why have you chosen this Super Bowl to talk about, to make a platform out of marriage equality?

BRENDON AYANBADEJO, Baltimore Ravens linebacker: Well I don't really consider it "gay rights". I just call it rights. Everyone deserves to be treated equally. It is a cause I have been really outspoken for since 2009. And on the biggest platform in the world and everybody's watching, a billion people watching, everybody hears your voice.

I decided that -- I knew organically it was going to happen. That we were going to talk about equal rights and equality and -- marriage equality and whatnot. But now that I'm a Super Bowl champion, now my voice just projects that much further and hopefully can lead to even more change and more positive things for the LGBT community.

LEMON: You said it's equal rights. When people equate it to the civil rights movement, some people are offended by that. Others see it as the same thing. What do you make of it?

AYANBADEJO: The thing is if you are educated on the issue and you sit down and you talk to a gay person, you know, I have been talking to gay people. Everyone has been talking to gay people our entire lives, whether we know it or not. But we really believe that you are born gay and if – I've had plenty of conversations with people that are gay and they say they are born gay. No different than me being born this beautiful almond coconut color that I am. People are born gay. So why treat them any differently?

It's time that we treat everybody fairly, and not only are we trying to dictate who people should love. We are also trying to dictate who people should be. If a woman wants to wear a man's clothes or if a man wants to wear women's clothes, or you feel like you are a woman on the inside and you are really a man, who cares?

Let's just – let's just treat everybody equally. Let's move on, let's evolve as a culture, as a people. And especially, I mean, we think it's bad in the United States. I'm Nigerian, half Nigerian. And in Nigeria I get so many letters and e-mails from young Nigerians being persecuted or being thrown in jail or even being murdered for being who they are. And so we think we have it bad here. It's not bad here. But we can make a change in the United States that can affect the whole world.

LEMON: Brendon, during Super Bowl week, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver made controversial remarks over not welcoming gay football players in the locker room. I want you to listen to this. (Pause) Do we have that? Apparently, we don't have it, Brendon. But what he said, not the gay people, I can't play with them. He said we don't like that sweet stuff. What do you make of his – of his comments? He eventually apologized for them.

AYANBADEJO: Yeah. Well I mean it's just so ironic because it's a game of football and it's a masculine game, and we play so hard against each other and for each other. And you ask why did the Ravens win the Super Bowl this year? It's because we loved each other more than the 49ers loved the man next to them.

So I love the man next to me. My teammates love me. The coaches loved us, and we won this football game because of love. We didn't win because we were tougher or more macho or anything like that, we won because we love each other more and we're going to do anything for the man next to us.

And is that sweet I mean, I don't know. I think that's just -- that's just being a person and just having a task at hand. So I think more than anything that it's going to be a learning experience from him. Especially making the comments in San Francisco and I was raised in Santa Cruz, California, just a little bit south of San Francisco. And the LGBT community is so near and dear to us – we really consider it the hub of LGBT rights in the whole United States.

So you have to know your demographic and really we have to start talking about this issue and we have to educate people. And there's groups like Athlete Ally. And myself, Chris Kluwe, Scott Fujita, we are all about inclusiveness in sports and treating everybody equally. And you know once we start having this conversation and a lot of people don't have this conversation, they will -- athletes will really start to realize in the NFL and we can make such a big change that everybody is the same. We are all equal. It doesn't matter.

If you put your minds together, no matter what that person's background is or what their orientation is that we can make change and do positive things. So it's unfortunate that he made the comments. And I know he's sorry for them. And I know he's going to make it right when he gets the opportunity to do so.

LEMON: You put yourself really in the bull's eye, in the middle of this, by talking about it. And there were people who were saying to the league commissioner, that "Hey, you need to shut your player up." Did you get any backlash from any higher-ups, anyone in your team or anyone in the NFL, because you were so outspoken about -- about gay rights?

AYANBADEJO: No, there wasn't necessarily any backlash. That some -- some things did happen that weren't necessarily good but so many more things happened that were great and monumental. I think the most importing thing is in the state of Maryland, Marylanders went out and voted for marriage equality. And that's really trend-setting and trailblazing because we are the first state to do so.

And it was just a culmination of everything that's happened. It's the right time, the right place and I just -- I can't think of a better way for things to happen with Obama being re-elected and marriage equality being passed in Maryland. And hopefully it will be passed federally and it won't be up to people's votes. You really shouldn't -- it's not – someone's rights are not your opinion. Someone's rights are granted to the Constitution. So it's just the perfect storm. And I think -- I'm so proud just to be a Baltimore Raven and to be in the state of Maryland. We are a state that's really making a difference.

LEMON: You know it's kind of hard for us, for many people to wrap their heads around it when they go Brendon Ayanbadejo he is –  in order for him to feel this way he must be gay. And Brendon you're not gay. You have a daughter, you have a girlfriend. You know we talk about it. You and I talked, Brendon is not gay. And people don't understand that. When you hear people say that it's – it's an abomination, that it's in a – that it's a sin and that it's abnormal, what do you say to that?

AYANBADEJO: Well, I say that this Constitution gives you the power, it gives you the right to believe in anything you want to believe in. So whatever religion is out there, however many thousands of religions are out there, you have the power to believe in that because the Constitution grants you that.

Now don't use that same document, don't use those same rights to take away or disenfranchise others. It is ridiculous as me saying that no one can eat cheeseburgers, no one can eat pepperoni pizzas anymore because that's what it says in the Torah or in the Old Testament. So it's just equally as ridiculous saying that, oh, two people who love each other can't get married. Or, oh, it's a sin or oh, Leviticus says this, or Leviticus says that. But you have those rights to believe in what you believe in because you're an American and you have this Constitution. So don't take advantage of those rights and take away rights from others.

LEMON: Let's talk about the NFL and professional sports. Because – there are people who say this is going to be the next big fight. This is the next big fight, at least for equality, when someone comes out, especially in the NBA, or the NFL and not a former player like many former players or a number of former players have come out. When someone comes out, do you know of players who are currently -- and not that you have to out them – who are currently in the NFL, who are gay, who are closeted and who are afraid to come out?

AYANBADEJO: No, actually I don't know any. But I think that's why I work so valiantly for this issue myself, and I mentioned Chris Kluwe and Scott Fujita and our work with Athlete Ally and Carner Barwin, is that when an athlete does comes out, that he has a supporting cast around him and organizations like the 49ers, organizations like the Baltimore Ravens, have already set a precedence that they don't discriminate. All you need to do is be a great football player and be a great person. And the rest of your personal life is up to you.

So we're working hard for this. When our Jackie Robinson comes out, he's going to have a supporting cast around him. And we're going to support him and we're going to treat him just like we treat everybody else, every other teammate, with love and fairness and kindness and compassion, because we know it's really going to be a tough burden on that person.

LEMON: I'm watching social media here and people are talking about you now. Chely Wright, who is the country western singer who came out before and she said, "I'm watching Brendon310" -- that's your Twitter -- "on CNN with Don Lemon. What an amazing ambassador for equality. Thank you, Brendon."

And a lot of people are thanking you around the country and around the world. I agree, I appreciate it, sir. And I didn't screw up your name, as I have many times, even on the phone with you. Thank you, Brendon. I appreciate it. I'll talk to you soon. Okay, safe trip back to Baltimore.

AYANBADEJO: Thanks Don. With love we can accomplish anything.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014