The Baltimore Ravens have had to part ways with many veteran players this offseason.
Linebacker Ray Lewis and center Matt Birk retired. Safety Ed Reed, linebacker Paul Kruger and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe signed with new teams. Safety Bernard Pollard was released as well.
The Ravens also made a decision to release linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo on Wednesday. The moves have been necessitated by the new contract given to quarterback Joe Flacco and trying to get their financial commitments under the salary cap.
However, Ayanbadejo thinks the reason for his release may not be that simple. Ayanbadejo and Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe have been incredibly outspoken supporters of gay rights. According to Tom Rock of Newsday, Ayanbadejo believes his activism for gay rights also was a factor in the team’s decision to release him.
“I was a vocal guy and garnered a lot of attention,” Ayanbadejo said. “I brought a lot of issues with me to the Super Bowl and the issues came up at the Super Bowl. …My bark is louder than my bite. I make a lot of noise and garner a lot of attention for various things off the football field. When that starts happening, why do you have that player around?”
Ayanbadejo admitted that his play has fallen off in recent seasons and that the Ravens could find a player at a lesser salary to fill his role. But that doesn’t stop him from believing there was more to the decision than that.
“I don’t necessarily think that teams want this type of attention,” he said.
The Ravens have since denied the move was anything more than a football-related decision.
“We’re surprised that he would indicate this. We have always been respectful of Brendon’s opinions and his right to express those,” Ravens’ senior vice president for public and community relations Kevin Byrne said, via Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun. “Our decision regarding his departure from the team has everything to do with football. Nothing else.”
The prominence of gay rights issues in the NFL is only increasing. The San Francisco 49ers had to deal with Chris Culliver’s homophobic comments leading up the Super Bow. The Seattle Seahawks had to respond to Chris Clemons’ comments this week questioning whether a gay player coming out of the closet would be a selfish act. It’s a reality teams have to be prepared to handle when a situation arises.
Whether Ayanbadejo’s claims have any legitimacy is nearly impossible to determine. However, there was an obvious financial benefit the Ravens gained by his release. Ayanbadejo was scheduled to make $940,000 in base salary for next season with the Ravens. By releasing him, the Ravens will save over $800,000 in cap space for next season.