International Professional Sports figures show support for Gay Marriage, and LGBT rights

Rugby star turned lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights advocate Ben Cohen is stripping down yet again.

The 35-year-old hunk, who was recently seen on the smash BBC series “Strictly Come Dancing,” shows off his toned physique in video footage of his recent Attitude cover shoot. Cohen nabbed the magazine’s “Ally Award” late last year.

“It’s about being a champion on the field and off the field, and that’s where a lot of sportsmen really let themselves down,” Cohen, who is straight and married with twin daughters, told The Huffington Post in a 2012 interview. “If men find me attractive, that’s fair enough. I’m very comfortable in my sexuality, and I’m honored and flattered by it — it’s lovely to hear.”

Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker, Brendon Ayanbadejo, has been a vocal long-time supporter of marriage equality. The football player blogged about same-sex marriages for The Huffington Post in 2009, made a video for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, and donated Ravens tickets to the cause, which drew criticism from Baltimore County Delegate Emmett Burns Jr. in late August.

Chris Kluwe, Minnesota Vikings punter, lashed out at Baltimore County Delegate Emmett Burns a letter of his own. Kluwe asked in his letter, “How does gay marriage, in any way, shape or form, affect your life?”

Hudson Taylor, a three-time all-American wrestler from the University of Maryland, started his foundation, Athlete Ally, which encourages “all individuals involved in sports to respect every member of their communities, regardless of perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression,” in January 2011. Athlete Ally teamed up with GLAAD and they recently announced that the NBA is the first major sports league that will receive sensitivity training from Taylor’s organization.

Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander said in a CNN interview: “I don’t think one of our players would be scared to come out. We got 25 guys, it’s a family, and our goal is to win a World Series,” Verlander said in the interview. “What your sexual orientation is, I don’t see how that affects the ultimate goal of our family.”

Retired New York Ranger Sean Avery caused a splash last year when he became, what’s believed, the first pro athlete to voice support for gay marriage in New York. Since then, Avery teamed up with fellow ally, Hudson Taylor, joining in Athlete Ally’s message of combating homophobia in sports.

Henrik Lundqvist is the goaltender for the New York Rangers. The 2012 Vezina Trophy winner for the best goaltender, Lundqvist backstopped Sweden to a 2006 Olympic Gold Medal. Off the ice, Lundqvist has been named to People Magazine’s 100 Most Beautiful People List. When asked about his work with the “You Can Play Project,” Lundqvist said: “For me, it’s obvious that everyone should have the same rights and ability to play the game. It doesn’t matter race or sexual orientation.”

Australian rugby player David Pocock says he will not marry until gay marriage is made legal Down Under. “We’ve moved forward on so many issues and this is the next progression,” Pocock said while appearing on the Australian Broadcasting Company TV show “Q&A” in August.

Michael Irvin, former Dallas Cowboy and NFL Hall of Famer, appeared on Out magazine’s cover last July. Irvin spoke out for LGBT rights and marriage equality, citing his late gay brother’s passing. He also said he would support any athlete in the NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB who comes out.

Donte Stallworth, former Baltimore Raven and teammate of Brendon Ayanbadejo, showed his support on Twitter, tweeting a string of messages for marriage equality and LGBT rights

Boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr.tweeted his support for gay marriage, backing up the President after Obama made his own endorsement announcement in May. On the other hand, Mayweather’s rival, Manny Pacquiao, said he believes marriage is between a man and a woman.

Argentinian boxer Sergio Martinez made a video for the “It Gets Better Project” last March. The 37-year-old Martinez was bullied himself growing up and helps others who have been the victims of bullying.

In true Charles Barkley fashion, the NBA Hall of Famer has been a long-time supporter of gay marriage and gay rights, making tongue-in-cheek (yet admirable) comments as early as 2006. Barkley said on-air last year, “God bless the gay people. They are great people.” And in response to Sean Avery’s advocacy, Barkley added he’d have no problem playing with an openly gay teammate.

Claude Giroux is the captain of the Philadelphia Flyers. In 2012, he was ranked the 3rd best player in hockey by The Hockey News. The 25-year-old superstar was also the coverboy for EA Sports NHL 2013. Nicknamed “G,” Giroux appeared in a PSA for the “You Can Play” Project in 2012.

Phoenix Suns president and CEO Rick Welts came out to NBA all-star Steve Nash, he said he’d support Welts. Soon after, Nash made a video for HRC’s New Yorkers for Marriage Equality campaign, saying he’s proud to be a part of a growing group of athletes speaking out for gay marriage.

Although he hasn’t explicitly said anything about gay rights, retired three-time NBA champion Rick Fox, appeared as a guest judge on“RuPaul’s Drag Race” season four. Plus, his former ex, Vanessa Williams (gay icon, at least to Raja, Drag Race season three winner) was also on the show the season before. If this isn’t a sign of LGBT support, what is?

Cleveland Browns player Scott Fujita first voiced his support for gay marriage in 2009, reacting and agreeing with fellow NFL colleague Brendon Ayanbadejo. Two years later, Fujita continued his LGBT advocacy, taping a PSA for the HRC’s Americans for Marriage Equality initiative.

“Let [gay people] go through what [straight people] go through,” said John Salley, former Detroit Piston bad boy, who made light of his support for gay marriage on Good Day LA back in 2010. Recently, Salley appeared alongside fellow former NBA player Rick Fox on RuPaul’s Drag Race” season four, another reason to love the charismatic b-ball player.

One very active straight ally is Ben Cohen, an English rugby world cup champion, who retired to start The Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation, which “supports organizations, programs and people that advance equality for the LGBT community and help for at-risk youth by standing up against bullying.” Cohen recently stripped down to his underwear to benefit his organization and spoke with Huffington. in August. He said, “No one should have to tolerate that [bullying], no matter what your sexual orientation, the color of your skin, your size or the color of your hair is.”

Michael Strahan, retired New York Giant and new co-host of “LIVE! with Kelly and Michael,” made a video for HRC’s New Yorkers for Marriage campaign. He said, “I feel it’s unfair to keep committed couples from being married.”

Popular soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo said, “We must respect the choices made by anyone, because, after all, all citizens should have the exact same rights and responsibilities,” when asked about the passage of gay marriage in his home country of Portugal in 2010.

The sports-entertainment world of wrestling has had its fair share of homophobic culture in the news. Though there have been anti-gay remarks made by John Cena, CM Punk and Michael Cole, Jesse Ventura, former Minnesota governor and wrestler, has lent his support for gay marriage. Ventura, who appears alongside his wife, Terry, in a video for Minnesotans United for All Families, an initiative asking voters to say no to a 2012 constitutional amendment that says marriage is between a man and a woman. Ventura said, “Government should not be telling people who to fall in love with.”

Former NBA star, Isiah Thomas, poses with his son for NOH8, a campaign that advocates gay marriage and LGBT rights. Other pro athletes who’ve participated: football players Nic Harris, Antonio Cromartie and Isaac Keys, all-American wrestler, and soccer player Mike Chabala.

Vancouver Canucks Manny Malhotra and Jason Garrison marched with the “You Can Play Project” in Vancouver Pride 2012. The players, along with Canucks mascot Fin, marched with the Cutting Edges, an all-gay hockey team. Malhotra, who described himself as “thrilled” to be there, stated: “It’s paramount that equality in sport, and beyond, becomes the norm. Everybody has the right to play the game they love.” Note: An earlier version of this slide stated that the Canucks were the first North American team to march in a pride parade. However, the Chicago Blackhawks marched in the 2010 Chicago Pride Parade.

Last May, NBA players Grant Hill and Jared Dudley made a PSA announcement for the “Think B4 You Speak” campaign, where the athletes denounce using the word gay to mean “dumb” or “stupid.” The video was a three-way partnership among the NBA, GLSEN and the Ad Council.

The San Francisco 49ers became the first NFL team to make a video for the “It Gets Better Project,” in August. Other sports teams who have made videos include L.A. Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, and the San Francisco Giants.

Zdeno Chara has a reputation as hockey’s biggest, meanest, toughest player. The captain of the 2011 Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins, Chara was named hockey’s best defenseman in 2009. In his PSA for the “You Can Play Project,” Chara states that he will back an openly gay hockey player, declaring “I will always stand up for my teammates.”

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