Athletes back gay marriage bill

Updated: March 7, 2013, 1:31 PM ET
ESPNChicago.com

Two Hall of Fame athletes signed a letter supporting a gay marriage bill on its way to the Illinois House.

Former Chicago Cubs shortstop Ernie Banks and former Chicago Bears defensive end Richard Dent, along with former Bears Hunter Hillenmeyer and Brendon Ayanbadejo, wrote that the "Illinois General Assembly should act now and give same-sex couples the freedom to marry."

"In sports, any time a player is not treated with fairness and respect, the game is diminished," the letter reads in part. "Similarly, treating any group of people as second-class citizens hurts us all, because discrimination is wrong no matter whom the target is."

A bill that would make Illinois the 10th state to legalize gay marriage was approved by the Senate and has the support of Gov. Pat Quinn. It now moves to the House, where it promises to be more contentious.

Ayanbadejo, who now plays for the Baltimore Ravens, has been an outspoken advocate for gay rights. Along with Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, Ayanbadejo wrote and filed an amicus brief in support of same-sex marriage in California last month.

Ayanbadejo was critical of homophobic comments made by San Francisco 49ers safety Chris Culliver during Super Bowl week.

"That's how a lot of people think in sports and in the NFL and in the inner cities and people who aren't educated. That's why it's so important to have the dialogue, so people can understand it's not about gay rights. It's about equal rights," Ayanbadejo said recently on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN Chicago 1000. "We just want to treat everybody equally. Being gay is no different than being black or having advantages or disadvantages."

Banks, known as "Mr. Cub," hit 512 home runs during his Hall of Fame career. Dent, the Super Bowl XX MVP, played 12 seasons with the Bears and recorded 137.5 sacks, which ranks seventh all time. Hillenmeyer played seven seasons for the Bears and retired after the 2010 season.

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