NEW ORLEANS — The 49ers and Baltimore Ravens are on the biggest stage in sports, and Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo is eager to take advantage of it.

Ayanbadejo, a Santa Cruz High alum, is an outspoken supporter of same-sex marriage, making him an extremely rare figure among professional athletes.

"I'm just doing what's right in this day and age, and you really shouldn't be applauded for doing the right thing," Ayanbadejo said Tuesday. "We're headed in the right direction."

Still, Ayanbadejo knows better than most that the cause has a long way to go. His story became known nationally earlier this season when Baltimore politician Emmett C. Burns Jr. sent a letter to the Ravens complaining that one of their players had publically endorsed same-sex marriage. Ayanbadejo said he is grateful that the Ravens organization backed him then and is so active in the community, and at Tuesday's media day session, Ayanbadejo used the platform to talk at length about his support for same-sex marriage.

"Timing is everything -- sometimes you're ahead of your time and sometimes you're behind the times," he said. "We're trying to be right on time."


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The timing couldn't be better for Ayanbadejo. A day before media day, it was reported that former 49ers lineman Kwame Harris faced felony charges after an altercation with his ex-boyfriend. The charges publically outed Harris, a former first round pick, and Ayanbadejo said he believes the NFL would now be accepting of an openly gay player.

"I think if you're a great person and you play high-caliber football, we're ready for it," Ayanbadejo said. "Teammates might disagree with same-sex marriage, but they should still treat you equally as a player."

Ayanbadejo, 36, hopes to continue as an advocate for several causes when his playing career is over. He has contributed to the NFL's Play 60 initiative for 10 years, helping encourage active and healthy lifestyles for future generations. Ayanbadejo also has pushed for further ALS research and is involved in anti-bullying campaigns.

For now, however, his focus is on beating a team he grew up rooting for. Ayanbadejo has been cheering for the 49ers from afar all season long and referred to Jim Harbaugh's group as the "sibling organization" of the Ravens. While he's eager to keep speaking out in support of issues he is passionate about, Ayanbadejo hasn't been able to change minds when it comes to this week's game.

"All my friends back home are still cheering for the 49ers, they're not rooting for me," he said, laughing. "So I didn't invite any of them to the game."