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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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The Ravens rarely make in-season trades — Marcus Peters was an exception

The Ravens rarely make in-season trades — Marcus Peters was an exception

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens rarely make in-season trades to bring in another player that will contribute right away. 

Marcus Peters was an exception to the rule.

On Tuesday, the Ravens brought in Peters in exchange for Kenny Young and a 2020 5th round pick. It was just the seventh time in the last nine years that they’ve acquired a player from September through the end of the season.

“We always appreciate the way he plays,” coach John Harbaugh said of Peters on Wednesday. “He’s a good fit for our defense, the way we play, the type of techniques we play back there, and we’re just looking forward to getting him to work and getting him up to speed as quickly as possible and rolling.”

But in terms of Peters’ acquisition, the trade is an outlier to the Ravens trade history

Since 2011, the Ravens haven’t spent significant draft capital on an in-season acquisition. There was: Peters, RB Ty Montgomery, OL Tony Bergstrom, OL Luke Bowanko, WR Chris Givens, CB Will Davis and OL Eugene Monroe.

All trades, except for Peters and Monroe, were for 7th round picks. Monroe was traded from Jacksonville to Baltimore for 2014 4th and 5th round picks. 

In short, the Ravens rarely make moves of significant substance once the season begins. Even Bowanko was brought in before the rosters needed to be trimmed down to 53 in 2017. 

But it’s not just acquiring players, it’s giving them away. Since 2011, the Ravens have traded away just one player (guard Nick Easton) after Sept. 1. They received a 2016 conditional 7th round pick for him. 

While the Ravens have made moves in recent months like trading away Joe Flacco, Alex Lewis, Kaare Vedvik and Jermaine Eluemunor, the Peters trade breaks precedent in terms of in-season trades. 

The 5th round pick was the highest draft pick the Ravens have traded away for a player since 2017, when the Ravens traded away the 99th pick in the NFL Draft, as well as Timmy Jernigan, for the 74th overall pick — which became Chris Wormley.

There might’ve been rumors about a potential Jalen Ramsey trade, but when it comes to giving up significant assets to acquire a player during the season, that’s just not what the Ravens are in the business of doing.

That’s why the Peters move made sense — the Ravens gave away a player that fell out of their plans for relatively low draft pick. 

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The Ravens’ big play problem, and how they’re looking to create more explosive plays

The Ravens’ big play problem, and how they’re looking to create more explosive plays

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ offense has a newfound problem. 

Since week one of the season against the hapless Dolphins, the Ravens haven’t been able to generate big plays at the same rate. Starting in week two, they’ve got just 20 offensive plays of 20 yards or more.

And with Marquise Brown currently out of the lineup, that’s becoming a bigger issue.

“Marquise can definitely affect the game that way, but we’ve got guys that can do it as well,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “A lot of it starts with how the defense chooses to play, but we’re always looking for more for sure. It’s definitely a focus of ours, I would say. There’s a lot of different ways to do it.”

Baltimore started the season with a bang in Miami and hung 59 points on a terrible Dolphins team. Since then, though, the explosive plays have dried up. 

The Ravens have just four rushing plays of 20-yards or more since week two — three came last week against the Bengals. 

Lamar Jackson threw five passes that ended with gains of 20 yards or more in the second week of the season against the Cardinals, but that number has decreased by one each week to just one passing play over 20 yards last week against the Bengals. 

In the only three passing plays of 20 yards or more against the Browns, all came in the last drive of the game when the game’s outcome was already decided. 

“You're not going to throw behind them if they're back,” coach John Harbaugh said on Sept. 30, a day after the Browns game. “So, you just have to make plays. If a team is going to play that kind of defense — you want to call it 'bend-but-don't-break,' whatever you want to call it —and they're basically challenging you to go down the field and have a long drive and score a touchdown.”

Since the first three weeks of the season, however, teams have been afraid of the Ravens speed and forced Jackson to beat them deep. For the most part, it’s worked.

Jackson threw 21 passes more than 20 yards in the air in the first three weeks of the season. He went 8-of-21 in those weeks with two touchdowns (both against Miami) but is 0-for-7 with two interceptions since the Chiefs game. 

Overall, Jackson is 8-of-28 (28.5 completion percentage) with two touchdowns and two interceptions when throwing for more than 20 yards in the air. 

With defenses putting a cover on the Ravens offense, they’ve been forced to settle for shorter, high-percentage plays. At least to an extent, it’s been efficient. 

The Ravens offensive DVOA, a measure of how efficient an offense is, is 13.3 percent which ranks fourth in the NFL behind Seattle, Dallas and Kansas City, according to footballoutsiders.com.

While the Ravens offense hasn’t suffered because of the lack of big plays, there’s a chance that day could come if teams shut down their quick game.

Additionally, a few extra explosive plays per week are what could turn this offense from very good to great.

“There’s some plays I think we could’ve hit on the last couple weeks, we can do a little better with and that’s something we need to work at,” Roman said. “But I think every week is a little bit different, so we’ll see how this one goes.”

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