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Gay-rights backers wait for their Jackie Robinson

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Gay-rights backers wait for their Jackie Robinson

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Brendon Ayanbadejo has heard from many players who applaud his support of gay marriage - some of them teammates, others from the opposing side of the line.

Then, just days before the biggest game of the year, he received a striking reminder of the macho attitudes that still prevail in the NFL.

San Francisco cornerback Chris Culliver said he wouldn't welcome a gay player on his team. Even though he quickly backtracked, the comments underscored what Ayanbadejo already believed:

The league is still a long way from embracing its first openly gay player.

``It's going to take a very courageous person to come out,'' said Ayanbadejo, a backup linebacker and special teams ace for the Baltimore Ravens.

Culliver apologized Thursday, maintaining that what he said during an interview with comedian Artie Lange during Super Bowl media day - videotaped and posted on the Internet - were not his true beliefs.

``That's not what I feel in my heart,'' the defensive back said.

But Ayanbadejo (EYN'-beh-day-joe), who stirred debate this season by backing a gay-rights amendment in his adopted state of Maryland, estimates that at least half the NFL's players would agree with what Culliver said, at least privately.

Responding to a series of crude questions from Lange, Culliver said the 49ers didn't have any gay players, and if they did those players should leave. ``Can't be with that sweet stuff,'' he said, seemingly unaware that his comments would ever get back to San Francisco and the Bay Area, home to a large gay community.

``I'm sorry if I offended anyone. They were very ugly comments,'' Culliver said. ``Hopefully I will learn and grow from this experience and this situation. I love San Francisco.''

Whether he was honestly expressing his true feelings or trying to limit the damage, the comments prompted plenty of discussion about a larger issue: Is the NFL - or any major pro sport in the U.S. - ready to accept a player who comes out?

Several retired athletes have acknowledged their homosexuality after their careers were over. But no one has revealed it while actually suiting up, no doubt mindful of the divisiveness it might cause in the locker room.

``I'd say 50 percent of the people (in the NFL) think like Culliver. I'd say 25 percent of the people think like me. And 25 percent of the people are religious. They don't necessarily agree with all the things I agree with, but they're accepting,'' Ayanbadejo said. ``So it's a fight. It's an uphill battle.''

For Ayanbadejo, taking a strong stand on heated issues is just part of his makeup. The 36-year-old grew up in northern California - less than an hour from the 49ers current training facility - and learned at an early age from his family to treat all people with tolerance and respect. He remembers marveling at the skill of Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis, then finding out later he was gay.

``I thought it was awesome he could go out there and do his thing,'' Ayanbadejo said. ``No matter who you are or what you're doing, if you're doing something you love, you should be able to do that and express who you are.''

That's why he thought it important to come out in support of gay marriage in Maryland, an issue that put him at odds with a vocal state lawmaker who opposed the measure. The amendment was passed by the voters in November, and Ayanbadejo was pleasantly surprised that a number of players - even from other teams - gave him a pat on his back.

Of course, there were others who didn't agree - many of them in his own locker room. Safety Bernard Pollard is among those who doesn't support gay marriage, though he insisted it doesn't affect his relationship with Ayanbadejo.

``Everybody's entitled to their own opinion,'' Pollard said. ``Ayanbadejo has taken a position to back everything that's going on there (in Maryland). There's a lot of guys that disagree.

``But, you know, we can all disagree, and be perfectly fine. He knows I don't back what he's doing. I don't stand for it. But at the same time, that doesn't take away from us being teammates. I still respect him as a man. I'm never going to demean him. He's never going to demean me. He's got his thing, and I've got mine.''

Ayanbadejo was asked what kind of player - and person - it would take to be the first openly gay athlete in the NFL. He said it would have to be someone along the lines of Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in baseball and, coincidentally, would have been 94 on Thursday.

``If you're an amazing player, acceptance is going to come a lot easier,'' the Ravens linebacker said. ``People would be like, `Man, I didn't know gay people were such amazing athletes.' Uh, yeah, it's not that farfetched. But some people think like that.''

San Francisco safety Donte Whitner, another strong supporter of gay rights, said a number of factors would have to be lined up perfectly before a gay player could make the call to come out.

``It depends on what team he's on, what market he's in and the character of the guys in the locker room,'' he said. ``The character of the guys in the locker room is important. You can feel a lot more comfortable about coming out if there's guys in there to back you up.''

Interestingly enough, considering it was a teammate who stirred up the issue during Super Bowl week, Whitner said the 49ers would probably be one of the most accepting squads.

``I believe there would be no issues with our team,'' he said. ``I believe San Francisco would probably be the best city to do it in.''

Niners CEO Jed York said he needs to become a leader on the issue of gay rights. After the Super Bowl, he intends to set up a meeting between Culliver and members of the LGBT community in the Bay area.

``I can't force anybody to think or to act the way that I want them to,'' York said. ``But what I can do is give them the opportunity to experience other cultures, other communities.''

While Ayanbadejo praised the efforts of NFL executives like York, as well as the backing he received from his own team on the gay-marriage issue, the first player to come out will surely face plenty of obstacles.

``I think it would be tough,'' 49ers receiver Randy Moss said. ``That person would get ridiculed and just beat up verbally. I don't know if they'd be able to handle it.''

But Moss said it's time - past time, really - for everyone in the NFL to acknowledge that gay players have always been part of the league. And, he added, to realize they're not going to hide their true feelings forever.

``It's not going anywhere,'' Moss said. ``We're all the same people. What is it - a 16th of an inch of our skin color - that separates us from one another? I don't really look at gays in sports as a problem. We just need to accept it and move on.''

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AP Sports Writers Janie McCauley, Howard Fendrich and Barry Wilner contributed to this report.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Ravens vs. Vikings: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

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Ravens vs. Vikings: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

Like much of the season thus far, the Ravens' offense struggled Sunday against an also struggling Bears.

It seemed as if their offense was playing in slow motion for part of their 27-24 OT loss.

Joe Flacco went 24 for 41 for only 180 yards and threw two interceptions. 

The Ravens had a shot at getting the win but couldn't capitalize on two special teams plays that helped them force the game into OT, leaving many questions about the state of the Ravens' offense.

RELATED: WEEK 6 NFL POWER RANKINGS

The team hasn't had much luck in presumably easy matchups, and now they are headed to Minnesota to take on the 4-2 Vikings.

The Vikings are coming off a 23-10 win against the Packers where quarterback Case Keenum threw for 239 yards and one touchdown. 

Star running back Dalvin Cook tore his ACL in Week 4 against the Lions and is out for the rest of the season, causing the team to lean on Latavius Murrary and Jerick McKinnon. 

Against the Packers, McKinnon rushed for 69 yards and one touchdown.

Something the Ravens and Vikings have in common is a surplus of injuries. 

Vikings starting quarterback Sam Bradford is still dealing with an aggravated knee injury and isn't expected to make his return Sunday against the Ravens.

Ravens running back Terrance West suffered a calf injury Week 5 against the Raiders and did not play against the Bears in Week 6. Tight end Maxx Williams hurt his left ankle in the second quarter of Sunday's game, as well as wide receiver Breshad Perriman who suffered a concussion. Both plays caused a turnover.

The Ravens lead the series 3-2 and haven't faced the Vikings since 2013.

Here's everything you need to know to watch Ravens, Vikings. 

Week 7 Ravens vs. Vikings Game Info:

Who: Baltimore Ravens vs. Minnesota Vikings

What: Week 7 NFL regular season 

When: 1:00 p.m.. ET, Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017

Where: U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN

TV Channel: CBS

Live Stream: NFL Game PassCBS All Access

Radio: WBAL New Radio 1090 

Point Spread: Minnesota, -5.5

Over/Under: 40

Weather: 63 degrees, partly cloudy

BALTIMORE RAVENS 2017 REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE:

Week 1 (Sun, Sept. 10): 20-0  at Cincinnati Bengals (W)

Week 2 (Sun, Sept. 17): 24-10 vs. Cleveland Browns (W)

Week 3 (Sun, Sept. 24): 44-7 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (in London) (L)

Week 4 (Sun, Oct. 1): vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 1:00 p.m. (L)

Week 5 (Sun, Oct. 8): at Oakland Raiders, 4:05 p.m. (W)

Week 6 (Sun, Oct. 15): vs Chicago Bears, 1:00 p.m. (L)

Week 7 (Sun, Oct. 22): at Minnesota Vikings, 1:00 p.m.

Week 8 (Thur, Oct. 26): vs. Miami Dolphins, 8:25 p.m.

Week 9 (Sun, Nov. 5): at Tennessee Titans, 1:00 p.m.

Week 10 (Sun, Nov. 12): BYE week

Week 11 (Sun, Nov. 19): at Green Bay Packers, 1:00 p.m.

Week 12 (Mon, Nov. 27): vs. Houston Texans, 8:30 p.m.

Week 13 (Sun, Dec. 3): vs. Detroit Lions, 1:00 p.m.

Week 14: (Sun, Dec. 10): at Pittsburgh Steelers, 8:30 p.m.

Week 15: (Sun, Dec. 17): at Cleveland Browns, 1:00 p.m.

Week 16: (Sat, Dec. 23): vs Indianapolis Colts, 4:30 p.m.

Week 17: (Sun, Dec. 31): vs. Cincinnati Bengals, 1:00 p.m.

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Ravens lose in OT after offensive struggles haunt team once again

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Ravens lose in OT after offensive struggles haunt team once again

BALTIMORE -- When the Chicago Bears weigh the good and bad facets of their performance against the Baltimore Ravens, it's likely they will come up with this conclusion:

Who cares? We won.

After blowing a 14-point lead, allowing two long kick returns and committing two turnovers, the Bears used a 40-yard field goal by Connor Barth in overtime to secure a 27-24 victory Sunday.

"You got to be able to take whatever situation you get and make something out of it," defensive end Akiem Hicks said. "I wanted to get a good W, go home and relax. The coming down to the wire thing is not my favorite style, but . however you get it, you just got to appreciate it."

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Jordan Howard ran for 167 yards, including a 53-yarder that set up the game-winning score for the Bears (2-4), whose two wins this season have come in overtime.

Howard's long run in OT put Chicago at the Baltimore 40. After rookie Mitchell Trubisky completed an 18-yard pass to Kendall Wright, Barth delivered the decisive kick.

"It wasn't always perfect -- it seldom is -- but we're just happy to get out of here with a win," Bears coach John Fox said.

Making his first career start on the road, Trubisky directed a conservative game plan that leaned heavily on the run. The first-round draft pick completed 8 of 16 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown.

"We took what the defense gave us," the rookie said. "The run game was working, so let's keep pounding the rock."

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Howard had 36 carries and the Bears gained 231 yards on 54 attempts.

"Whatever it takes to win," Fox stressed. "This week, we had to run the ball -- and we did."

Baltimore (3-3) trailed 17-3 in the third quarter and 24-16 late in regulation before capitalizing on special teams play to get back in the game.

Bobby Rainey took a kickoff 96 yards for a score to begin the comeback and Michael Campanaro brought back a punt 77 yards for a touchdown with 1:37 remaining. The 2-point conversion was successful , setting up overtime.

"Those two special teams touchdowns were huge," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.

The Ravens weren't the only ones to capitalize on big plays. Chicago used a halfback pass from Tarik Cohen to Zach Miller for a first-half score, and Adrian Amos returned an interception 90 yards for a touchdown for a 24-13 lead with 5:08 left.

Baltimore was in position for the go-ahead score when Amos got his first career interception on a pass that bounced off the chest of receiver Chris Moore, who was covered tightly by Kyle Fuller.

Chicago forced three turnovers and frustrated quarterback Joe Flacco throughout the afternoon. Operating without injured receivers Jeremy Maclin (inactive) and Breshad Perriman (second-quarter concussion), Flacco went 24 for 41 for 180 yards with two interceptions.

Trubisky put Chicago ahead 17-3 in the third quarter with an on-the-run, 27-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dion Sims, who outfought Tony Jefferson for the ball in the end zone.

That put the Ravens in a precarious position, especially with a struggling offense.

Rainey alleviated the pressure by taking the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown. After being tripped by a teammate, Rainey popped to his feet, broke right and went the distance.

Campanaro did his part later, but it wasn't enough.

"Sometimes your special teams kick in and score two touchdowns, which is great," tight end Benjamin Watson said. "But Chicago did a better job of closing than we did."

The Ravens were coming off a 30-17 win in Oakland in which they did not commit a turnover, didn't allow a sack and were penalized only once.

In this one, Baltimore gave the ball away twice, permitted two sacks and was flagged five times -- in the first half.