FORMER MINNESOTA VIKING RISKED HIS CAREER TO SPEAK OUT FOR EQUALITY
Chris Kluwe catapulted to international recognition in 2012 when he used his voice for good. As a punter for the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, he had the chance to speak out for equality in a noble and rather colorful way.
Fellow football player Brendon Ayanbadejo, then part of the Baltimore Ravens, spoke out for marriage equality in the state of Maryland. A representative from Maryland’s House of Delegates went as far as to ask the Ravens to put a gag on Ayanbadejo for speaking out for equality. Bothered by this, Kluwe wrote a response that went viral around the world, reassuring the Delegate that standing up for gay rights wouldn’t make him a “lustful c–kmonster.”
He became known far and wide for telling it like it is, almost overshadowing his success on the football field. That success was legendary: in his eight seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, Kluwe broke nineteen team records which still stand today. He finally blew the whistle on his own team, alleging that his head coach was unhappy with how opinionated he had become, and that his special teams coach in particular was very anti-gay, and shared such views publicly with the team. He hasn’t been on an NFL team in a year. He believes that speaking out for equality and becoming a vocal ally for the LGBT community is part of the reason he’s out of a job. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.
In an exclusive Hotspots interview, I spoke with Chris Kluwe about what his next move is going to be, how he earned his viral fame, the book he wrote, the time he met Michael Sam, and what he thinks of homophobes like the late Reggie White.
A lot of your fans down here want to know if you will be returning to football.
I don’t think I will be. I’m keeping myself in shape, and I still have the physical capabilities needed to punt in the NFL, but unfortunately when you call out general managers, head coaches, and assistant head coaches, you kind of slam the door shut behind you. [laughs]
Out of all the things you’ve said and done over the past couple of years, do you regret any of them?
No, I knew this was a potential outcome when I first became involved in speaking out for marriage equality. But at the same time, to me it was something worth doing, even if this was the outcome. On one hand, I had a “career” playing, what’s for all intents and purposes, a children’s game, and on the other hand there were human rights. I would like to think that people would choose one to value more highly than the other.
There’s always a buzzword mentioned when the topic of LGBT rights comes up, and that’s “evolution.” What was your evolution on LGBT rights like?
I was born in 1981, so I was a teenager in the ’90s. I’m not going to say my views were particularly enlightened then. I called my friends “gay” in a negative way. It’s just a word you used then. As I grew older, I started thinking about it, and I thought, “Why am I doing this when this is harmful to people?” I can use a variety of perfectly good swear words without denigrating an entire group of people! [laughs] I changed. I realized my actions were hurtful and harmful, and I made a choice not to use that word anymore. I started growing from there.
What made you want to speak out publicly against anti-gay people and establishments?
It was simple, really. I had read the letter that Maryland Delegate Emmett Burns sent to the Baltimore Ravens, calling for them to stifle Brendon Ayanbadejo’s free speech. This bothered me on two levels. First, here’s an official in government, serving the United States, telling someone else that they aren’t allowed to speak out. That’s a very clear violation of the First Amendment. And the fact that he didn’t understand that was very…troubling. Second, why was he trying to deny people rights when it didn’t affect him in any way, shape or form? Gay marriage does not affect Delegate Emmett Burns in any way unless he decides that one day, he would like to get married to another man. In that case, he would be happy that same-sex marriage is legal.
So, those two things really hit me as I was reading it. I finished reading the letter, and then I went to bed. It was around 11:30 at night and I had to go to practice the next morning…and as I was lying in bed, and I literally could not stop thinking about this letter and how stupid it was. I couldn’t go to sleep. Finally, after 20 minutes of rolling around and thinking about it, I got up and I wrote my response to him. After that, I went back to bed and slept like a baby. [laughs]
You also publicly called out the St. Paul Pioneer Press too, and you were writing a blog for them at the time.
I felt that they were being duplicitous. They had published an editorial that was presented as a “neutral editorial” but the message of the editorial was that people should vote to restrict same-sex marriage in Minnesota. The words they used, the turns of phrasing they used, the amount of space they gave one argument over another…when you looked at it in aggregate, it was a very subtle push toward, “Hey, vote yes on this amendment. We don’t want same-sex marriage in our state.”
That really bugged me, because it’s one thing to have courage in your convictions and say, “I don’t want same-sex marriage, and that’s what I’m going to say,” but it’s something worse when you present yourself as a neutral party and try to trick people into accepting your hidden argument.
And at the end of the day, Minnesotans voted down that amendment and legalized gay marriage so the newspaper’s move was all for nothing.
I think for a lot of people, they thought, “Hey, wait a minute…” Minnesota prides itself on being a progressive state. Even the conservative parts of the state are very independent. They don’t want big government and they don’t want government telling them what they should be doing. The fact that government was trying to come in and say, “You can marry this person but not that person,” I think people were realizing that it was wrong no matter which side of the aisle they were on.
In Florida we recently had four court cases decided in favor of marriage equality. How long do you think it will be before marriage equality is legalized nationwide?
It should have been realized nationwide last year, with the cases of DOMA and Prop 8. The Supreme Court punted that decision. They had a chance to say, “Hey, this is the direction the country is moving in,” but I think [Antonin] Scalia was the one who was behind the option that was put forth: “Here’s the limited things we’ll agree on.” I think in the next year or two, the sheer amount of court cases that are going through the system and finding their way to the Supreme Court will force them to make a final ruling once and for all. I’m very confident that it will be in favor of equal rights for same-sex couples. It’s the direction the country is saying they want to go.
You became famous for the very colorful manner and words you use when making points, so much so that you got a book deal out of it. For people who haven’t read your book, tell us a bit about it.
It’s called “Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies” and you can find it on Barnes and Noble and Amazon. I think there’s an ebook version as well. It’s a collection of short stories and essays, and a lot of them deal with the topic of rational empathy. It’s the idea that if you want to have the right to be free from oppression, that you should be willing to fight when other people are denied the same right.
People had come to me and asked me to write a book, and I said, “Okay, it’s not going to be a standard football book. It’s not going to be, ‘And then I went out, and I punted the ball, and it was amazing.'” No. There are more important things in the world to talk about. Hopefully some of the stories will make you think, and then some might make you think, “What the hell was he thinking?” [laughs]
Have you had a chance to speak with Michael Sam?
I got a chance to meet him just before he came out. His PR guy hosted a dinner and Billy Bean was there, I think Brendon Ayanbadejo was there, and Cyd Zeigler from Outsports. I said to him, “I support you, and just know that there’s a huge group of people out there who have your back.” There might be some things he’ll encounter in the locker room, but for the most part, guys will be cool, and they’ll be cool because they know the world is changing. I just tried to help him be aware of the fact that he’s going into the NFL, don’t be concerned with anything else. Just go out and do your best and play.
I mean, look at how far we’ve come. In 1998, Reggie White took out a national newspaper ad talking about how he’d never stand for gay people in the NFL. And now, sixteen years later, we have Michael Sam. So s–k it, Reggie White.
Chris Kluwe is especially active on Twitter; you are welcome to follow him by going to twitter.com/ChrisWarcraft.