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Gay-rights backers await for their Jackie Robinson

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Gay-rights backers await 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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Ravens vs. Jaguars in London: Date, time, TV channel, how to watch, online stream

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Ravens vs. Jaguars in London: Date, time, TV channel, how to watch, online stream

The Ravens are looking to go 3-0 this Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The only minor difference in this game than from most, they'll be playing 3,628 miles away in London, England.

MORE RAVENS: RAY LEWIS NOMINATED FOR 2018 PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME CLASS

The Jaguars are coming off a 37-16 loss at home against the Tennessee Titans. In Week 1 however, they defeated the Houston Texans 29-7.

Quarterback Blake Bortles completed 20 of 34 passes in Sunday's game for 211 yards and a touchdown. Bortles also threw two interceptions.

The Ravens are 2-0 after shutting out the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1 and dominating the Cleveland Browns 24-10 at home in Week 2.

One major blow the Ravens took in Sunday's game against the Browns was losing Pro-Bowl guard Marshall Yanda to a season-ending ankle injury.

RELATED: RAY LEWIS CLAIMS RAVENS DIDN'T SIGN KAEPERNICK AFTER GIRLFRIEND'S TWEET

To make up for a major loss on offense, the defense will continue to have to prove they are a powerhouse figure in the league.

In the Ravens' first two regular season games, the defense has had eight interceptions and two forced fumbles.

And as far as quarterback Joe Flacco, who was absent from the preseason with a back injury, he's thrown for 338 yards and three touchdowns.

There will be no sleeping in on Sunday morning with kick off at 9:30 a.m. ET. CSN has all the info you need to watch the guys in the U.K..

Week 3 Ravens vs. Jaguars in London game info:

Who: Baltimore Ravens vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

What: Week 3 NFL's International Series 

When: 9:30 a.m.. ET, Sunday Sept. 24, 2017

Where: Wembley Stadium, London, England

TV Channel: CBS

Live Stream: Yahoo, NFL Game Pass, NFL Mobile, Baltimore Ravens website

Radio: WBAL New Radio 1090 

Point Spread: Baltimore, -3.5

Over/Under: 39.5

Weather: 71 degrees, partly cloudy

BALTIMORE RAVENS 2017 REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE:

Week 1 (Sun, Sept. 10): at Cincinnati Bengals, 1:00 p.m. (W)

Week 2 (Sun, Sept. 17): vs. Cleveland Browns, 1:00 p.m. (W)

Week 3 (Sun, Sept. 24): at Jacksonville Jaguars in London, 9:30 a.m.

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

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

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

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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Baltimore Ravens defense forces five turnovers in 24-10 win over Cleveland Browns

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USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore Ravens defense forces five turnovers in 24-10 win over Cleveland Browns

BALTIMORE -- The Ravens are making a habit of converting turnovers into victories.

Baltimore relentlessly harassed two Cleveland quarterbacks, Joe Flacco ramped up his production with a pair of touchdown passes and the Ravens breezed past the Browns 24-10 on Sunday.

Building on their season-opening shutout at Cincinnati, the Ravens picked off four passes and forced a fumble -- giving them 10 takeaways in two games.

RELATED: RAY LEWIS NOMINATED FOR 2018 PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME CLASS

The victory carried a stiff price: Six-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda fractured his left ankle and will be lost for the season.

"Unfortunately, it's bad news," coach John Harbaugh said. "We'll have to bounce back from it, and we'll have to handle it."

Most of the defense's damage came against Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, who left with a migraine headache in the second quarter after four ineffective series: a three-and-out, a lost fumble, an interception and a punt.

The former Notre Dame starter was replaced by second-year pro Kevin Hogan, who would become the third quarterback in two games to be intercepted by the Baltimore defense.

Kizer said the headaches are hereditary, and that he hasn't had one crop up in a game since high school. He received medication, underwent concussion protocol, and finally received clearance to return in the third quarter with Baltimore up 21-10.

On his second series back, Kizer moved the Browns to the Baltimore 7 before being picked off in the end zone by Lardarius Webb.

Brandon Carr's interception with 6:09 remaining all but sealed the victory.

Coming off a solid performance in his debut against Pittsburgh, Kizer went 15 for 31 for 182 yards with three interceptions and a lost fumble.

MORE RAVENS: FOUR FORMER RAVENS HITTING BROADCAST BOOTH IN 2017

Hogan completed five of 11 passes for 118 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

"The turnovers will always stick out because it stops you from scoring points or leads to points for the other team," coach Hue Jackson said.

Both were outdone by Flacco, playing his second game since returning from a sore back that kept him sidelined the entire preseason. After going 9 for 17 in a keep-it-simple outing against the Bengals, Flacco went 25 for 34 for 217 yards in the encore.

"Get a lead and get pressure on the (other) quarterback is a good winning recipe," Flacco said. "Putting guys in that situation the last two weeks has been big for us."

As he matures, Kizer ultimately will come to understand the problem of holding the ball too long in the pocket -- a mistake that put the Browns in an early hole.

On Cleveland's second series, Kizer was looking for a receiver when sacked by Terrell Suggs. The rookie fumbled, Baltimore recovered, and minutes later Terrance West scored on a 4-yard run.

Kizer's next turnover wasn't entirely his fault: With the Browns at the Baltimore 26, his pass glanced off the hands of running back Duke Johnson into the arms of safely Eric Weddle.

Baltimore went up 14-0 in the second quarter when Flacco completed two straight passes totaling 43 yards to tight end Benjamin Watson before Javorius Allen caught a 9-yard TD throw.

Hogan entered and promptly took the Browns on an 83-yard drive that ended with his first career touchdown pass, to David Njoku.

But Flacco countered with a 2-yard TD pass to Jeremy Maclin on the final play of the half, and that was enough to hand Cleveland its 14th consecutive road defeat.