Brendon Ayanbadejo was a champion of LGBT rights during his controversial NFL career.
Ayanbadejo’s outspoken views on same-sex marriage earned him the respect of many individuals.
Other athletes such as Sean Avery, Grant Hill, and Jared Dudley even followed in his footsteps and promoted LGBT rights several years after he did.
Sadly, Ayanbadejo also had his share of detractors.
Nonetheless, Brendon Ayanbadejo realized his dream of playing in the National Football League after spending time playing for NFL Europe, the XFL, and the CFL.
Ayanbadejo eventually overcame the odds and became a three-time special teams Pro Bowler during his ten-year NFL career.
He also became just the second special teams player in NFL history to represent an NFC and an AFC team in the Pro Bowl on two separate occasions.
Brendon Ayanbadejo proved you can achieve your dreams if you keep your nose to the grindstone day in and day out.
Oladele Brendon Ayanbadejo was born to a Nigerian father and an Irish-American mother in Chicago, IL on September 6, 1976.
In a first-person essay Ayanbadejo wrote on The Chicago Tribune’s official website (via NigerianVillageSquare.com) in the fall of 2005, he revealed his first name Oladele means, “What follows me home.”
His last name means, “The crowning of the king goes hand in hand with drumming.”
He has an older brother named Obafemi “Femi” Ayanbadejo and a sister named Rosalinda.
Femi Ayanbadejo played fullback and special teams for ten years in the NFL for the Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins, Arizona Cardinals, and Chicago Bears.
The brothers both played for the Ravens, Bears, and Dolphins at some point in their respective pro football careers. They were teammates on the Miami Dolphins during the 2003 NFL season.
Ayanbadejo spent the first few years of his childhood in his father’s homeland of Nigeria before returning to Chicago at the age of three or four with his mom and brother. He spent his formative years in the city’s Lathrop Holmes housing project area.
Ayanbadejo lived a hard life as a youngster in the Windy City.
He wrote on The Chicago Tribune’s official website (via NigeriaVillageSquare.com) as an adult that he and his family survived on welfare and stood in line for food, which was typically cheese or powdered milk.
Witnessing friends getting killed and joining gangs were common occurrences in Ayanbadejo’s Chicago neighborhood.
According to Ayanbadejo’s official website, other children also taunted him over his parents’ mixed marriage.
Ayanbadejo’s family’s living conditions became so miserable his mother had to move them to California.
Ayanbadejo attended Santa Cruz High School in California from 1990 to 1994. He played tight end for the Santa Cruz Cardinals football team.
Brendon Ayanbadejo remained in-state and made a name for himself with the UCLA Bruins during his stint on the college gridiron.
College Days With The UCLA Bruins
Brendon Ayanbadejo attended Cabrillo Junior College in 1995. He suited up for the Cabrillo College Seahawks that year. He eventually earned Junior College All-American honors as a true freshman.
Following Ayanbadejo’s freshman season at Cabrillo Junior College, he earned a full athletic scholarship from UCLA. Ayanbadejo majored in history and played for the UCLA Bruins from 1996 to 1998.
When his father accepted a job as the apartment building director of the University of California in Santa Cruz several years later, he welcomed the LGBT-friendly environment.
Ayanbadejo recalled being 20 or 21 years old when he saw his father again. He hadn’t seen him since his mother brought him and his brother back to Chicago when he was just three or four years old.
These experiences shaped Ayanbadejo’s view of gay rights and same-sex marriage. He eventually became an advocate of these issues long after his football career had ended.
“I learned people are just people,” Ayanbadejo told The Baltimore Sun’s Kevin Rector on October 26, 2013.
While playing for the Bruins during his senior year against their arch-rivals, the USC Trojans, Ayanbadejo was praised for playing the best of his football career.
Yes he already knows first hand! 4 sacks in one game pic.twitter.com/ElBe2Yed9E
— Brendon Ayanbadejo (@brendon310) February 9, 2022
He sacked Trojans quarterback Carson Palmer four times and racked up nine tackles and one forced fumble.
“That was the best game I’ve ever played in my life,” Ayanbadejo wrote in The Chicago Tribune (via NigerianVillageSquare.com) in 2005. “I was on fire.”
It came as no surprise when Ayanbadejo earned First-Team All-Pac-10 as a senior for the 1998 NCAA season.
The Bruins had a combined 25-10 win-loss mark with Ayanbadejo on their football roster from 1996 to 1998.
Fifth-ranked UCLA beat the 20th-ranked Texas A&M Aggies in the 1997 Cotton Bowl, 29-23. It was the only bowl victory of Ayanbadejo’s college football career.
Ayanbadejo’s stint at UCLA was mired in controversy following the infamous handicapped parking placard scandal in the late 1990s.
According to The Los Angeles Times, Ayanbadejo and eighteen of his Bruins teammates allegedly used the placards illegally so they could obtain better parking spots at the school.
Ayanbadejo received one count of illegal possession of a handicapped parking placard and providing false information to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Ayanbadejo admitted to his mischief in a first-person essay he wrote for The Chicago Times in 2005.
However, he labeled the deed a “double-edged sword” because students like him couldn’t afford exorbitant parking rates that reached the $175 to $200 range.
Because Ayanbadejo depended mostly on scholarship money, he had to find a way to pay for parking. He eventually did what some of his Bruins teammates did, but when he looked back at his misdeed in 2005, he wasn’t proud of his actions.
He remembered paying a total of $1,500 in fines to the Los Angeles police. He also performed community service in his birthplace of Chicago, IL.
Brendon Ayanbadejo eventually embarked on a memorable ten-year career in the National Football League that was mired in plenty of controversies.
Pro Football Career
The Atlanta Falcons signed Brendon Ayanbadejo as an undrafted free agent in 1999.
He spent time on the practice squads of the Falcons and Chicago Bears in the 1999 and 2000 NFL seasons, respectively.
Ayanbadejo traveled north of the border at the turn of the new century. He split the 2000 Canadian Football League (CFL) season between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Toronto Argonauts.
He continued his nomadic football stint a year later. He played for three teams in 2001: the XFL’s Los Angeles Xtreme, the Baltimore Ravens practice squad, and NFL Europe’s Amsterdam Admirals.
Ayanbadejo eventually returned to Canada where he became a CFL All-Star with the BC Lions in 2002.
He also considered becoming a lawyer once his football playing days were over—he enrolled in LSAT prep classes during his one-year stint with the Lions.
At this point in Ayanbadejo’s gridiron career, he thought the possibility of playing in the National Football League again was nothing but a pipe dream.
“I always thought I was a big star, but after being cut by my first three teams I thought, ‘Maybe this isn’t for me. Maybe I’m not as good as I think I am,” Ayanbadejo told Yahoo! Sports’ Michael Silver in January 2013.
Ayanbadejo couldn’t have been more wrong—it was only a matter of time before he made an NFL roster after his second tour in the CFL.
— Simon Clayton PREC* (@604realtor) February 4, 2013
Ayanbadejo’s all-star season with the Lions aroused the curiosity of several NFL teams, per Silver.
He also met a Fijian psychic in Vancouver, BC in 2002. She told him that his brother, Femi, was surrounded by palm trees and he would join him soon.
Ayanbadejo was stumped. He called Femi who told him he was about to sign a contract with the Miami Dolphins, per Yahoo! Sports.
The psychic’s premonition came true—the brothers became teammates playing for the Dolphins during the 2003 NFL season.
After four excruciating years, Brendon Ayanbadejo finally realized his NFL dream.
The brothers shared an apartment in South Florida in 2003. Femi took Brendon under his wing—he taught him about the finer points of nutrition, strength training, and the work ethic he needed to succeed at the NFL level.
Brendon had one habit that got on Femi’s nerves: sleeping.
Femi told Silver that in January 2013, Brendon slept practically all day every day. When Femi returned to their two-bedroom apartment after lifting weights and riding his bike to Dolphins practice, he’d discover his brother fast asleep in his bed.
At that point, Brendon was deep in the Dolphins’ linebacker depth chart. When several linebackers were injured, Brendon seized the opportunity.
He put in the work and eventually earned three Pro Bowl nods with two different squads during a fruitful ten-year NFL career.
Brendon Ayanbadejo spent two seasons with the Dolphins from 2003 to 2004. They eventually traded him to the Chicago Bears in 2005.
Ayanbadejo enjoyed a successful three-year stint in his birthplace where he became a two-time special teams Pro Bowler.
Ayanbadejo signed a four-year, $4.9 million deal with the Baltimore Ravens on March 6, 2008.
He earned his third consecutive Pro Bowl berth that year. He became just the second special teams player to earn a Pro Bowl nod in both the AFC and NFC.
With Ayandebajo in tow, Baltimore made five straight postseason appearances which culminated in a victory against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII in 2013.
It was the first and only Super Bowl ring Ayandebajo earned during his colorful and sometimes controversial ten-year NFL career.
Ayandebajo wrote a controversial Huffington Post piece entitled “Same-Sex Marriages: What’s the Big Deal?” on May 24, 2009.
Part of Ayandebajo’s article reads:
“If Britney Spears can party it up in Vegas with one of her boys and go get married on a whim and annul her marriage the next day, why can’t a loving same-sex couple tie the knot?”
Ayandebajo wondered why society approved of Spears’ one-night stand wedding but frowned upon same-sex couples who have loved each other unconditionally for years.
In Ayandebajo’s Huffington Post article, he said Americans will look back many years from the time he wrote the piece and wonder why gays and lesbians didn’t have the same rights their compatriots had.
“How did this ever happen in the land of the free and the home of the brave? Are we really free?” Ayandebajo wrote.
Several weeks after Ayandebajo wrote the Huffington Post article, he informed Ravens head coach John Harbaugh that he was going to make a public appearance supporting his stance on LGBT issues with Equality Maryland.
To Ayandebajo’s surprise, Harbaugh—a devout family man—told him he read the article when they met after one offseason spring practice.
Although Harbaugh disagreed with Ayandebajo on his stance on same-sex marriage, the former congratulated the latter for taking a leadership stance, per Men’s Journal’s Kevin Gray.
Gray noted that Ayandebajo was the first American pro athlete who took a stand for gay rights.
Ayandebajo also enrolled in the University of Baltimore’s MBA program in 2009 so he could achieve his goal of becoming a Division I athletic director.
After Ayandebajo completed three courses at the University of Baltimore, he transferred to George Washington University’s MBA program. He was scheduled to earn his MBA degree in the summer of 2013.
Ayanbadejo started some controversy at the beginning of his final season in the National Football League in 2012.
When Ayanbadejo gave two free tickets to the Ravens’ home opener to a Marylanders for Marriage Equality fundraiser, Maryland Delegate Emmett C. Burns, Jr. took exception.
Burns wrote a letter to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti saying he considered it “inconceivable” that a Baltimore player would openly support same-sex marriage, per The Washington Post’s Michael S. Rosenwald.
In Burns’ letter, he implored Ayanbadejo to “concentrate on football and steer clear of dividing the fan base.”
Burns is the founder and senior pastor of Rising Sun First Baptist Church. He has long been a staunch critic of same-sex marriage.
Despite Burns’ opposition, Ayanbadejo continued his advocacy for LGBT rights. He collaborated with Maryland governor Martin O’Malley to help drum up support for gay marriage in 2012.
Maryland eventually became the first state that approved civil rights for same-sex couples in November 2012. It was one of Ayanbadejo’s proudest accomplishments off the gridiron, per his official website.
Several weeks before Super Bowl XLVII, Ayanbadejo planned to use the league’s on-field microphones and cameras to promote his advocacy for LGBT rights.
“Why not be the person to carry that message not only to the United States, but the rest of the world?” he told the New York Post’s Howie Kussoy on January 26, 2013. “I have this huge platform; the whole world is watching.”
Ayanbadejo’s outspoken LGBT views got the attention of several big-name personalities.
Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe seconded Ayanbadejo’s opinions on gay rights. The former also received an invitation to appear on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show the week after the Ravens’ Super Bowl showdown against the San Francisco 49ers in February 2013.
Hip-hop artist Russell Simmons also sent support to Ayanbadejo about starting a blog, per Kussoy.
The Baltimore Ravens released Brendon Ayanbadejo on April 3, 2013. He initially felt the team released him because of his outspoken stance on LGBT rights.
However, he changed his statement several days later. He even said the Ravens had always supported his stance on LGBT issues since 2009.
“They said go ahead and use your platform,” Ayanbadejo told The Associated Press (via USA TODAY) in the spring of 2013. “And not only did that make the Ravens look good and we also won the Super Bowl, but it’s also a good example for other teams in the NFL as well.”
Ayanbadejo didn’t sign with another NFL team following his release from the Ravens.
Brendon Ayanbadejo concluded his ten-year NFL career with 190 total tackles, 4.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, two interceptions, and five passes defensed.
Contrary to popular belief, Brendon Ayanbadejo’s sexual orientation is straight, per The Baltimore Sun’s Kevin Rector. He has been married to Natalee Uzcategui since 2003. The couple has three children.
— Brendon Ayanbadejo (@brendon310) March 13, 2022
Ayanbadejo’s 22-month-old son Amadeus Prime underwent major heart surgery in the spring of 2013 to correct a condition known as Atrial Septal Defect (ASD).
Ayanbadejo and his family resided in the Fort Lauderdale, FL area during the NFL offseason.
Ayanbadejo has earned several accolades for his advocacy for LGBT rights since he retired from the National Football League following the 2012 NFL season.
According to Ayanbadejo’s official website, he became an Athlete Ally ambassador and one of Sports Illustrated’s “Athletes Who Care.” He also earned recognition for his efforts from PFLAGG and GQ Magazine.
Ayanbadejo also worked with former President Barack Obama’s advisor on LGBT concerns. He and former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe co-authored the AMICUS brief which aimed to repeal California’s Proposition 8.
Ayanbadejo presented the brief and made a case for same-sex marriage during several Supreme Court hearings.
The floodgates for same-sex rights advocacy among professional athletes burst open after Brendon Ayanbadejo made his sentiments known nationally.
Other big-name athletes such as NHL star Sean Avery and NBA stars Grant Hill and Jared Dudley also promoted gay rights several years after Ayanbadejo voiced his opinions on LGBT issues, per Men’s Journal.
Ayandebajo told The Baltimore Sun in October 2013 that his relentless advocacy for LGBT rights was just one aspect of his entire persona.
“It’s just one of the pieces of me,” he told Rector. “It’s just something I do. It doesn’t take up all my time, but it’s something I live and breathe.”
Athlete Promotions sports marketing and branding consultant Anthony Fernandez told Rector the demand for speakers on LGBT issues quadrupled in 2013.
Fernandez said Ayanbadejo’s speaking fee “is incredibly reasonable” compared to other big-name sports personalities, per The Baltimore Sun.
It’s a testament to Ayanbadejo’s commitment to the LGBT cause.
Aside from Ayanbadejo’s advocacy for same-sex rights, he has worked in the sports media and fitness industries since he hung up his cleats following his 2012 NFL campaign.
Ayanbadejo became a FOX Sports football analyst and opened several gyms in California during his retirement.
His wife didn’t want him sitting around the house after he retired from the NFL.
“She told me if I didn’t go work out or do something that I’d have to cook or do laundry or change diapers,” Ayanbadejo told SI.com’s Jamie Lisanti in December 2015. “I didn’t want to do that.”
It was a key turning point in Ayanbadejo’s post-football life.
Ayanbadejo took his wife’s advice to heart and walked into a nearby Orangetheory Fitness (OTF) and tried a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout.
Workout 1 in the books!!!!
Keys to being healthy
1) eat clean & 30% less cals
2) sleep well for 7-8 hrs only
3) move your body frequently weights, run, yoga
4) stress free life & environment
5) love pic.twitter.com/UT3B28niDU
— Brendon Ayanbadejo (@brendon310) January 1, 2022
The hour-long training session utilizes treadmills, TRX suspension training, free weights, and rowing machines and aims to make individuals hit an 84% (or higher) heart rate.
Before long, Ayanbadejo became an OTF franchise owner. He is currently a general partner of West Coast Fitness which runs 55 OTF gyms mainly in California.
West Coast Fitness also operates OTF fitness centers in Cincinnati, OH and Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, per Ayanbadejo’s official LinkedIn page.
Ayanbadejo isn’t a typical gym owner—he does grunt work like cleaning toilets in addition to training and hiring staff members. He also leads OTF classes at his gyms.
Thanks to regular OTF training, Ayanbadejo told SI.com that he reached peak physical condition just before he turned 40 years old.
Although Ayanbadejo admitted he couldn’t run as fast in the 40-yard dash or squat as heavy as he did during his heyday in pro football, he established a new record for his fastest mile when he turned 39 in 2015.
Ayanbadejo’s post-retirement weight fluctuates within the 215-lb. range—a 10-lb. difference from his playing days in the National Football League. It’s also the lightest he had ever weighed since high school.
When he played in the NFL, he did Olympic lifting movements such as power cleans and snatches as part of his weight training regimen. Ayanbadejo stopped doing them when his focus shifted exclusively to OTF training.
The Ayanbadejo brothers have tattoos of an eye as a sign of their bonding and unity. Femi sports the tattoo on his back while Brendon has his on the back of his head.
Brendon Ayanbadejo can say “hi” in fifteen languages, per The Chicago Tribune (via NigerianVillageSquare.com).
When former Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib admitted he was gay in the summer of 2021, Ayanbadejo stated that he was the perfect advocate for current LGBT issues.
“Carl seems like the right guy to carry the torch,” Ayanbadejo told Ryan Mink of the Baltimore Ravens’ official website in June 2021.