Marques Sullivan could have said no.
Few people expect former pro football players, especially straight ones, to carry the banner for the gay-rights movement.
But when Sullivan got a call Monday asking if the Retired Professional Football Players of Chicago would march with Wade Davis in Chicago's Pride Parade on Sunday, he said yes about as quickly as he could fire off the line after a snap.
Davis, the grand marshal of this year's parade, is the onetime NFL cornerback who sparked a national discussion on anti-gay bias in pro football when he announced last year that he is gay.
Sullivan had never met him. It didn't matter. As president of the local group of former players, he knew all he needed to know: that Davis was an NFL brother and that the cause was righteous.
"We want to make sure he knows he has teammates here who support him as he goes through this crusade fighting for LGBTQ rights," Sullivan said Thursday, sitting at home in North Lawndale.
And if that decision incites some backlash?
"I don't care," he said, mildly. "People are going to say what they're going to say."
Sullivan, 35, lives with his wife not far from the West Side neighborhood where he grew up back in an era when bias against gays was acceptable in pro sports. That era wasn't so long ago.
He recalls a restaurant he used to frequent in the early 2000s, when he was playing for the Buffalo Bills. One day while he talked to the owner, another man walked up and introduced himself as the owner's partner. Sullivan took awhile to discern that "partner" wasn't preceded by "business."
"I could have finished my meal and never went back to the place," he said. "I continued to come. Developed a really good relationship with this couple. We're friends to this day."
Some of his teammates were repelled.
"When they got wind of the restaurant being owned by gay individuals," he said, "they had words for me or didn't go to the restaurant anymore."
Sullivan can't say how he learned to see gay people as equal people or to see their struggles for respect as not so different from the struggles of African-Americans.
Maybe, he said, he owes it to the fact that his mother had a gay male friend.
Whatever the explanation, he knows that marching with Davis is the right thing to do, not only to support a fellow player but to support all the gay, lesbian and transgender young people in sports.
"We want to make sure that these young people have an ally in us," he said. "We absolutely do not tolerate bullying of those youth."
After Sullivan got the parade invitation from a PR firm on Monday, he called Reggie Smith, his predecessor as president of the players group.
"My first thought," Smith said when I called him Thursday, "was one of pride that we're to the point that this is a natural decision."
Smith, who played for the United States Football League's Tampa Bay Bandits, is 50. He has a long view of pro football's blind side.
"It is a gladiator sport," he said, "and that may go against what someone's limited and uninformed view of what a gay person is."
Like Sullivan, he can't pinpoint when or how he arrived at his conclusion that being gay is just one way, a natural way, to be.
"When I was 21 or 22," he said, "I don't know that I could have this conversation with you. Not because of any pressure but because I probably wouldn't have been as educated or mature."
Education. Information. Knowledge.
Both Sullivan and Smith use those words in talking about their attitudes toward gay rights. They also both go to church, where their views aren't unanimously shared.
"I am a Christian," Smith said, "but being Christian isn't about being exclusive or vindictive. It's about being supportive and of service."
Sullivan isn't sure how many players will show up for the parade. The late invitation, he said, has put some in a scheduling bind.
But when Wade Davis rides the grand marshal's float down Halsted Street on Sunday, Sullivan will be right behind in his Buffalo Bills shirt, and Smith will be there in his polo shirt, two burly, straight guys unafraid to be part of the long shifting of the tide.