Paul Tagliabue, the former commissioner of the National Football League, presented Minnesota Viking Chris Kluwe and Baltimore Raven Brendon Ayanbadejo with the evening’s honors at the fifth annual Straight for Equality Gala, hosted by PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) National, in Manhattan on April 4.
Tagliabue was commissioner from 1989 to 2006, during which time he expanded the league and worked for better relations between labor and management, according to a PFLAG National press release. His son, Drew, came out to him the year he began his tenure at the NFL, so he was also a member of PFLAG while helming the league. The younger Tagliabue is the executive director of PFLAG New York.
In a written statement prior to the gala, Paul Tagliabue alluded to his personal connection to the organization.
“For PFLAG to be honoring [Kluwe and Ayanbadejo] is particularly appropriate, because one of a parent’s greatest fears when their child is GLBT is that opportunities will be closed to their child,” he said.
The two football players have been outspoken advocates for LGBT equality over the past year, increasing awareness of the need for dialogue about acceptance of diversity in sports.
“We expect NFL players to be leaders in the community,” Tagliabue said, “and they are setting excellent examples.”
The efforts made by Kluwe and Ayanbadejo stand in sharp contrast to months of homophobic incidents involving the NFL. Just days before the Super Bowl, in which his San Francisco 49ers lost to Ayanbadejo’s Ravens, Chris Culliver said, “Ain't got no gay people on the team. They gotta get up outta here if they do.”
A prospective NFL recruit later said that he was questioned about his sexuality when talking to one team he would not identify. And late last month, Chris Clemons of the Seattle Seahawks tweeted that it would be a “selfish act” for any NFL player to come out and “immediately separate a lockerroom and divide a team.”
In a statement on behalf of Ayanbadejo and himself prior to the gala, Kluwe said, “I know both of us hope for the day when it’s no longer considered something extraordinary to do the right thing.”