Before September of 2012, punter Chris Kluwe wasn’t a name known by those outside of Seattle, Minnesota, and those interested in pro football minutiae. He made the jump from the small-type on the sports pages to viral headlines after publishing a letter written to a Maryland politician, who had written a similar open letter to the Baltimore Ravens after linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo spoke out for marriage equality.
Since then he has written a book and been released from the Vikings; he remains an unsigned free agent.
What got people talking about him again is an essay published Thursday on Deadspin in which he describes his time with the Vikings and why he thinks he was fired (it wasn’t for poor punting).
Throughout his lengthy essay, Kluwe recounts, in a much more restrained style than his other writing, what it was like for him at practice and in the locker room after his first letter went viral. The main villain in the piece is Mike Priefer, special teams coach for the Minnesota Vikings and contender for the top spot, who “half-jokingly” would argue with Kluwe about his position on marriage equality. Kluwe writes that of his teammates “some didn’t agree with me, but our conversations were always civil and respectful,” but with Priefer it was different.
Towards the end of the 2012 football season, Kluwe describes a meeting in which he and his teammates were joking about him being the Grand Marshal of the LGBT Pride Parade, and Preifer felt the urge to comment. Kluwe recalls that Priefer, “in one of the meanest voices I can ever recall hearing said: ‘we should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.’” The room then allegedly fell quiet and the “atmosphere was decidedly tense.” It was then that Kluwe noticed that he was receiving the same treatment from the coach as Ryan Longwell, a former placekicker, received before his firing.
Kluwe acknowledges “I will no longer punt in the NFL, especially now that I’ve written this account.” Yet, he remains charitable to the organization in general, hostile only towards Priefer, recently-fired head coach Leslie Frazier, and Vikings GM Rick Spielman, the latter two he calls “cowards.” He closes by saying that he doesn’t believe the NFL has an institutional problem with homophobia, but says that (like everywhere else) there are homophobic people in positions of power. “All we can do is try to expose their behavior when we see it,” he writes, “and call them to account for their actions.”
The world of sports media is even more saccharine and sanitized than almost any other news or entertainment. One could almost predict the answers to sports-reporters’ questions in news conferences:
Q: What does you think of the upcoming game with [insert team name]?
A:They are professionals and a challenge and let’s just hope for a good game.
Q: How does [insert specific sport achievement here] feel?
A: It feels great, but I didn’t do it alone. I have to thank [insert back-up teammembers’ names here].
Q: What about [insert specific controversial question here]?
A: I just want to get back to the fundamentals and play good [insert sport name here].
Despite what the fans-at-large may have thought of Kluwe’s positions or tone (or mediocre punting numbers), one cannot deny that he brought something vital back to sports: honesty.
Kluwe asserts that he was fired for the specific position he took, which may be true. It’s especially interesting to consider in light of the Duck Dynasty fiasco that was most likely all marketing. However, what seems more likely is not that Kluwe was fired for his specific position, but for taking a position at all. The NFL does not handle controversy well, especially if the controversy is aimed at a specific team or the NFL itself. If the problem is a specific player with mid-level numbers and no commercials running on Sundays, cutting him loose is the best way to rid themselves of it.