By now, you’ve probably read Chris Kluwe’s article for Deadspin wherein he recounts the end of his tenure with the Minnesota Vikings, which he suspects came about mostly due to his very public stance on marriage equality. The story makes some strong assertions, but it doesn’t read angrily, and no detail within it seems particularly unbelievable. (That we can imagine a football coach joking that homosexuals should be rounded up, shipped to an island and nuked is more than a little troubling, but here we are.)
I’ve written about his before: Every time there’s an allegation of racism or homophobia in sports, a bunch of people suddenly turn into reasonable doubt absolutists and place the burden of proof on the whistleblower. While I’m sure Kluwe harbors some ill feelings toward the Vikings, I’m also inclined to believe what he says, because if he is truly an ally of the LGBTQ community, there’s no chance he would label Mike Priefer a bigot out of spite. What you’re arguing if you doubt the veracity of Kluwe’s allegations is that he’s a liar who doesn’t care who he defames in some twisted pursuit to be seen as a heroically progressive athlete. The alternative is that he’s exposing homophobia and the cowardice that abets it. Consider which scenario is more likely.
The other element I’m seeing in some of the backlash to Kluwe’s piece are allegations that his advocacy is more about him than it is about gays and lesbians. Let me attack this from the perspective of someone who writes for a living: It’s true that Kluwe is self-interested and that has absolutely nothing to do with anything. When you’re an ally of a community of which you are not a part, and you speak up, it is at least somewhat about you. You’re self-identifying. When you write something for publication, you’re disseminating your thoughts to the public, which is at least somewhat about you. I don’t think Chris Kluwe is an extreme narcissist. Wanting to be thought of as an empathetic person and pushing for marriage reform are not mutually exclusive aims. Pretending not to understand this is the tool of pedants trying to confuse the issue.
The outspoken athlete is an object of contempt and amusement. Even the people who don’t grouse about how athletes should #StickToSports tend to treat the opinionated jock like a novelty, a dog that thinks it’s people. The reality is Chris Kluwe produced a story that no one else could have written, and it’s a good piece because Kluwe isn’t “smart for an athlete;” he’s just smart. People will try to obfuscate Kluwe’s basic point, and they’ll denigrate him for being a fame-seeker. They’ll do this because they don’t want politics in their sports – despite the unavoidable fact that sports, while mostly just fun and games, cannot be separated from the consequential world — and because they resent athletes who use their platform to express views they disagree with.
Regardless of what you think about Kluwe, he wrote something that needs to be reckoned with. That, by itself, is an accomplishment.