Sports stars come out for marriage equality

Mr. Cub and two Super Bowl champions are among four current and former athletes who have weighed in on the side of marriage equality in Illinois.

Illinois Unites for Marriage — an umbrella group that includes Equality Illinois, Lambda Legal and the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union — on Thursday released an open letter from four prominent Chicago sports figures urging the passage of the marriage equality bill being considered by the state legislature.

Signing the letter were Ernie Banks, the Major League Baseball Hall of Famer known as Mr. Cub; Brendon Ayanbadejo, who played three seasons for the Bears and just won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens; and retired Bears stars Richard Dent and Hunter Hillenmeyer.

“We come from a variety of backgrounds,” the letter says, “and we have played different sports for different teams. But one thing that binds us together is our belief in the importance of fairness and respect — in all aspects of life.

“In Illinois today, gay and lesbian couples who are in lifetime committed relationships do not have the freedom to marry. This violates our sense of fairness and respect. … In sports, any time a player is not treated with fairness and respect, the game is diminished. Similarly, treating any group of people as second-class citizens hurts us all, because discrimination is wrong no matter whom the target is.”

The letter is just the latest reaffirmation of Ayanbadejo’s prominent support for LGBT equality. He is one of several active NFL players –including Chris Kluwe of the Minnesota Vikings and Scott Fujita of the Cleveland Browns — who have been vocal in their advocacy of marriage equality and other issues of interest to the LGBT community,

Banks also has been supportive of LGBT issues, having been among the Cubs representatives at Chicago’s Pride Parade.

Dent, like Ayanbadejo, won a Super Bowl championship and was named the Most Valuable Player when the 1985 Bears won the league title. He also was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.

Hillenmeyer played eight seasons for the Bears before retiring in 2010.