I’m not much of a football fan, more of a rugby girl, but football is a big deal in my house, more to the point the Baltimore Ravens are a big deal in my house. I married a Baltimore man who has passed on his love (or obsession, you know, whatever) for football and the Ravens to our children. While I love that the hubby and the kids get the chance to bond over football, and I find no small amount of amusement listening to them yell at an inanimate object while watching a game, game time was always just “me” time–time to read a book or do my nails since I had zero interest in football. Then I learned that several of the players on the Ravens are involved with an awesome campaign called Show Your Soft Side, which promotes kindness towards animals, and I immediately went from “don’t care a bit about football” to “awww, how can you not love a bunch of big, tough softies and want them to win?” I mean, seriously, how can you not love this
Torrey Smith with his ridiculously adorable dogs
I even sat down and watched a game when the Ravens played the Eagles, in part because I took great pleasure in watching Michael Vick get the snot sacked out of him by the Softies (as the Show Your Soft Side guys are called). I’m not usually an advocate for violent retribution but I make an exception for Vick and his dog torturing, dog fighting ass.
Each time a photo from the Show Your Soft Side campaign pops up in my FB feed I smile. Far too often we only hear about the bad things that happen in cities like Baltimore, but it’s so important to focus also on the good that people do in order to combat cruelty and promote kindness. As I started learning more about the ways in which these Softies not only promote compassion towards animals but also involve themselves in their communities I found myself slipping deeper in love. A shining example of this is Running Back Ray Rice who, when he learned about an 8-year old fan whose family lost their home and their pets in a fire, and the ways her school was rallying around them, decided to throw a school-wide party for the students. The girl’s mother said “It was shared with Ray Rice on his Facebook page. His publicist came out and contacted us immediately and he was touched by two things. He was touched by the kids kindness and the school because he is all about anti bullying, and about the pets, the loss of the pets.” I’ve never been someone who thinks that sports figures, or celebrities in general, should be held up as heroes simply for their talent but these are some awesome guys who have involved themselves in their communities and with campaigns that make a difference.
Which brings me to Brendon Ayanbadejo (you can find him on Twitter here). Ayanbadejo is not only a Softie but also an outspoken advocate for marriage equality which, particularly in the arena of professional sports, is a big freaking deal. In an editorial he wrote for the Huffington Post in 2009 Ayanbadejo wrote
If Britney Spears can party it up in Vegas with one of her boys and go get married on a whim and annul her marriage the next day, why can’t a loving same sex couple tie the knot? How could our society grant more rights to a heterosexual one night stand wedding in Vegas than a gay couple that has been together for 3, 5, 10 years of true love?
He also made this spot in support of marriage equality in Maryland
And did this photograph for the NoH8 Campaign
Apparently he and Viking Chris Kluwe, who backed Ayanbadejo up when he caught heat for being so outspoken about marriage equality, were even named Honorary Gays of the Year by GQ. I didn’t know that was a thing but I’m going with it.
So what’s my point, other than indulging in some post-Superbowl rah-rah for the first time ever? My point is that I LOVE to see these big, tough football players do tender things, love to see them speaking up for equality and kindness, love to see their acts of compassion, their dimensions, their depth, and to see them live with grace and courage (Wide Receiver Torrey Smith, who features in that first Softie photo up there, is a perfect example of living and playing with grace and courage.)
One lesson we’ve always driven home while watching sports with our kids is that you don’t succeed by giving up, or losing faith in yourself. You succeed by moving forward, sometimes slogging through. We’ve also stressed that success doesn’t always mean winning a prize or a game, it’s also defined by graciously accepting defeat, and by having the courage and determination to give whatever you are doing everything you have. So thank you, Softies, for being a great group of guys and for doing good things. I feel pretty darn good about holding these guys up as examples for my kids of good men doing good things. Congratulations on winning the Superbowl and we look forward to another season of you giving it everything you’ve got!