American football player and equal marriage advocate, Brendon Ayanbadejo, has called the equal rights movement an “uphill battle” following anti-gay comments by fellow player, Chris Culliver.

“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,” said Mr Ayanbadejo of the Baltimore Ravens.

Mr Ayanbadejo was referring to remarks made earlier this week by Chris Culliver, who is set to play for the San Francisco 49ers in this weekend’s Super Bowl, who said in an interview that he didn’t think there were any gay players on his team and that they wouldn’t be welcome if there were.

“25 percent of the people are religious,” Mr Ayanbadejo added. “They don’t necessarily agree with all the things I agree with, but they’re accepting. So it’s a fight. It’s an uphill battle.”

“I hear [comments like Mr Culliver's] all the time, I hear it every day,” he said. “And it’s not just in the locker room, it’s on my Twitter (account), it’s on my Facebook. So I hear it all the time, I hear it every day. I’m not surprised, but that’s why I speak so loudly about this.

“I’ve preached since Day 1 to my teammates that there are certain words you can’t say, and when they’re around me they know – you can’t say gay in a derogatory manner,” he said. “You can’t say the three-letter F-word.

“And I tell them, ‘You can’t say those things (anywhere). And if people hear you say those things, regardless of whether you mean them or not, they’re going to fry you. And if it’s in a public arena, your whole reputation is going to be roasted for it.’”

Mr Ayanbadejo said that he didn’t have any ill feelings towards Mr Culliver himself: “It’s just one of those things where you have to live, and you have to learn … In the words of Martin Luther King, you can’t fight hate with hate. You have to fight hate with love.”

Earlier, he stated his optimism that Mr Culliver’s remarks would start a positive dialogue about gay players in the NFL.

“A lot of guys don’t know anything about it,” he said. “They may have friends in the LGBT community but they don’t know it. They have no knowledge or understanding of the situation, so I try to shed some light on it when I can.”

Terrell Suggs, a teammate of Mr Ayanbadejo, said on Friday: “On this team, with so many different personalities, we just accept people for who they are and we don’t really care too much about a player’s sexuality … You know who you are, and we accept you for it.”

Mr Culliver has since apologised, and said his comments were “hurtful and ugly”, and said they didn’t reflect his true feelings on the issue.

“[I was] really just not thinking. [It was] something that I thought. Definitely nothing that I felt in my heart,” Culliver said.

Openly gay former 49ers player, Kwame Harris, also spoke out about the comments made by Culliver prior to his apology being issued.

Mr Harris told NBC: ”It’s surprising that in 2013 Chris Culliver would use his 15 minutes to spread vitriol and hate. I recognise that these are comments that he may come to regret and that he may come to see that gay people are not so different than straight people.”

Earlier this week, Mr Harris was charged with felony domestic violence and assault charges involving a former boyfriend.

A statement from Mr Culliver’s team condemned his comments: “The San Francisco 49ers reject the comments that were made yesterday, and have addressed the matter with Chris. There is no place for discrimination within our organisation at any level. We have and always will proudly support the LGBT community.”

Mr Ayanbadejo, has said that he wants to use the massive exposure which the Super Bowl brings to speak out about marriage equality.

He was previously involved in a controversy because he was criticised by a state delegate for speaking in favour of equal marriage.

The Super Bowl will take place in the US on 3 February 2013.