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Ayanbadejo, whose parents are of Nigerian and Irish descent, said he believes race and religion play a part within views on homosexuality in the locker room. He said one of the biggest divides on the issue comes from what he calls “the marriage between religion and sport and the African-American community.”

“You could take the Bible literally for a lot of things, and really there are some things that are gray that you can make your own,” Ayanbadejo said. “We’re trying to have a separation between what the state dictates is the law and your right to believe what you want to believe in your religion, whatever that may be. You can do that. We’re not trying to change religion.

“But a state, a government, should protect its people and treat its people equally. We just have to educate our athletes.”

In early September, Ayanbadejo was the subject of a letter mailed to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti from Maryland Del. Emmett C. Burns, a Democrat in Baltimore County, which condemned Ayanbadejo’s support for same-sex marriage.

“Many of my constituents and your football supporters are appalled and aghast that a member of the Ravens Football Team would step into this controversial divide and try to sway public opinion one way or the other,” Burns wrote. “Many of your fans are opposed to such a view and feel it has no place in a sport that is strictly for pride, entertainment and excitement.”

The Ravens responded privately to Burns, who later backtracked on his letter. Ravens president Dick Cass stated the organization supports “Brendon’s right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment.”

Birk and Ayanbadejo may not agree on the definition of marriage. But they haven’t let the issue divide their friendship. Birk said he told Ayanbadejo in advance about his opinion piece in the Star Tribune.

Though Birk, a devout Catholic and father of six, believes marriage should be between a man and a woman, he has previously said he would “absolutely” be willing to play with a gay teammate or against a player who’s gay. Though homosexuality still is taboo in male sports, Birk believes progress and tolerance is evident today.

“I think definitely, just look at the last 20 or 30 years,” Birk said. “Feelings and attitudes towards gay people have come a long ways, in general, in society and in NFL locker rooms.”

Following Birk’s column, Ayanbadejo took to Twitter to explain that he didn’t think Birk is homophobic.

Matt Birk is an amazing father, teammate, man!” Ayanbadejo tweeted. “Even if he & I disagree on marriage equality we agree on 95% of other issues.”

Disagreements on powerful topics such as this can sometimes lead to heated arguments and sour feelings. But in this instance, Birk and Ayanbadejo have remained cordial and supportive of each other’s right to free speech.

“I think that anybody and everybody should be able to voice their opinion and how they feel,” Birk said. “That’s a basic right of our country. If guys feel compelled to speak up on something, then they should.”