The Outspoken Athlete

Chris Kluwe isn't a novelty or a demagogue. He's an athlete who's sharing his experience. (USA TODAY Sports)

Chris Kluwe isn't a novelty or a demagogue. He's an athlete who's sharing his experience. (USA TODAY Sports)

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.

10 thoughts on “The Outspoken Athlete

  1. What has happened to end Kluwe’s NFL career is unfortunate. The NFL today is no place for a nonconformist, and teams have clearly decided that he’s not worth the hassle. And maybe they are right; punters are interchangeable, after all. That being said, it’s just too bad that there’s not some team out there that can’t see that employing the one guy not willing to simply put his head down and kick would be a positive, not a negative.

    As for athletes speaking their mind, I will always support it, even if it’s for something with which I disagree. If that means Philip Rivers endorsing (shudder) Rick Santorum, so be it. If that means Kurt Warner proselytizing on TBN, fine. If society has granted you a platform on which to speak your mind about the things you feel need changing, it’s your responsibility to use it; it’s ours to decide if you have anything worth hearing.

  2. Shut your mouth and play football. Or quit and run for office. He’s not the first guy to get run off for flapping his gums. You get paid a ridiculous amount of money to kick a football 2 or 3 Times a game. Shut your face. No sympathy here. If I ran around my office telling everybody what I thought about them and how they did things I’d be fired in a heart beat.

    • So, you have to be running for office to be able to express an opinion on a topic in public? Should everyone shut their mouths, or just punters? All athletes? All people who have opinions different from yours?

    • As much as I don’t think I’d be quite so harsh with my opinion, I do have to agree. If he wanted to create change, he should have gotten into public advocacy or something like that. The football field is for playing games, and his repeated insistence on causing a scene when he had been asked to stop was damaging to the team, and distanced him from everyone who needed to be able to depend on him to do his job. He should have been fired, not for his views, but for being a rabble-rouser; in basically the strictest sense.

  3. I’m inclined to believe some of what he says, but not all of it. I can see a meathead special teams coach ranting about gay people, and I can even see a coach politely trying to remind a player that creating a public furor about a cause or an issue can be distracting to the team and to try and keep it down, even though it directly conflicts with his right to free speech.

    Where this story fell part to me is in the support of the owner. If the owner supports him, and the owner ultimately signs the paychecks, the owner will look upon him more favorably as a result. That means that the coaches and GM have to justify cutting the player to the owner beforehand, and have the owner be complicit. It also means the coaches and GM have to come up with at least an equal value replacement. Based on what he said, I’m more inclined to believe that he was cut because of the torn meniscus than his pro-gay-marriage stance.

    I also have to wonder why he waited this long to come out with the story. Why not just come out and write it the day you’re cut? Or beforehand? Or complain to your union rep (who supposedly has the power to file a grievance on your behalf)?

    I’d be happy to hear otherwise and change my mind if an active Minnesota Viking steps up and says “this is what I heard, this is what happened, Chris Kluwe is right.” But until then, I’m not fully buying this.

    • I will buy into that view of yours, Adam, as it seems well reasoned out. I possibly shouldve come two articles back here in the Rotation to post this:
      http://therotation.sportsonearthblog.com/evaluating-punters/ Not only that, I would now edit it after reading your comments to add that Tebow was definitely released mainly because of his poor play and not brought back, in addition to that fundamental flaw, also because of his so-called toxic brand in the MSM’s worldview. As you say, its not conclusive to say that is what happened with Kluwe as well, but it seems not such a simple coincidence in some respects (albeit on different issues) so that was the germ behind my comments to the effect that their outspokeness mayve been the tiebreaker in Kluwe’s case and in Tebow’s just more dirt on the coffin! Funny, though…how these hot-button topics seems to have a life of their own regardless of the on-field issues. Just another day in the agenda driven world of sports media….where thoughtfulness always, sadly but truly, seems to give way, in any scenario concerning printability, to sensationalism!

  4. Mr. Mehoff, There is no evidence Kluwe said anything negative about the Vikings in the entire time he worked there. Now, he is saying something very approving about the ultimate boss, the owner. As for reporting the coach’s comments, he may have acted too slowly. Most top-tier companies have anti-harassment policies that specifically require reporting of behavior like that.

    • If he had the owners support you think maybe he would have dropped a line, ‘hey this coach is making really inappropriate remarks that could be used against the organization if not addressed.’ In light of that his scathing column is questionable, if only in how he chose to act on this issue. Calling people cowards and bigots in the media is not a great look and comes across as the fury of the scorned.

      It’s also terrible journalistic form to assume one person is more righteous based on a weak interpretation of Occam’s razor. McGowan should have given the coach a chance to respond to this piece.

  5. Professional sports in the USA—I mean male sports, and most especially the NFL—are filled with grown men with the emotional and mental attitudes of adolescent boys. The immaturity and insecurity they display is sickening to watch. These are the defective psyches—and I include the coaches here—that get paid millions to aggressively compete against other of their own ilk. They have never grown up to become real men. Their extreme homophobia indicates sexual insecurity. When one of them, like Kluwe, steps out of line, he gets punished the same way young boys in a gang always punish outriders. Hasn’t anyone read “Lord of the Flies”? So I’m not surprised Kluwe has been driven out of the NFL. Frankly, I think he’s better off not hanging around the NFL boy-men.

  6. Since it has come to this with the Vikings, I need to know: Is Kluwe telling the truth about his ST coach, or is it libel? It has to be one or the other. A line has been drawn.

    As someone who was convicted of a crime and understands how tough it is to shed a label and gain employment, I cringed when I read Kluwe’s stated motive at the end of his account. If this is untrue or inaccurately recalled, it still portends to be extremely damaging to Priefer’s career. Many opportunities will be closed to him due to the allegations alone, even if they are unable to be proven. And as yet, nobody has seconded Kluwe’s account of events, which is troubling. If someone said something that polarizing, you’d think a former player might confirm that Priefer said the “island” bit.

    If Mr Kluwe truly wanted to have the impact on future generations of players by not having them subjected to Mr Priefer’s prejudice/bias/hate-speak, then he would’ve been better served putting out a form letter to the 32 NFL teams in private. This is not a matter for public consumption. It was far more damaging to Priefer than anything Priefer ever did to Kluwe. I am not sure the punishment fits the crime here.

    I am not comfortable with Kluwe continuing to write these public letters condemning others for their actions (Priefer, the congressman from MD) and then posting them on an entertaining website that exists purely to drum up controversy, because that does reek of narcissism. Loogit me! The true difference-maker attacks the problem through the boring, quiet, viable channels that echo in the true chambers of the powers that be. Shilling on Deadspin for esteemed Guest Columnist status and stars from the commentariat unfortunately diminishes his credibility in those chambers by 50%, in as much as driving a new car off the lot reduces it’s value immediately. The Deadspin platform is still easily dismissed by those who are able to seriously impact change in the world of sports.

    I love Deadspin and am a daily reader, but they have created a double standard by often becoming part of the story they’re covering. One one hand they frown up the journalistic ideals that are flouted in that process, but on the other hand they endorse it? This is a bad show all around, and yes, now that the horses are out of the barn: Will anyone else step forward and second Kluwe’s motion? If not, Priefer ought to file a lawsuit for libel. It’s his only recourse to salvage his reputation.

    Furthermore, why are we all applauding Kluwe for being so “bold” as to take a pro-equality stance. Not only are a lot of states legalizing Gay Marriages, but the strong voices of opposition have quieted down a great deal in the last decade. Kluwe may as well be jumping on the pulpit and saying “Brushing Your Teeth and Getting a Good Night’s Sleep are Beneficial to your Health!”…ummm, YAY, good point, bruh?! We all know this. This isn’t 1950’s Alabama, and he’s not stumping pro-integration. He’s backing the winning horse past post-time on an issue that will hopefully be a non-issue a decade from now.

    Kluwe needs to be more careful in this game, and in my perfect world he is taken down a peg by the refusal of any of his former teammates to come forward and confirm that Priefer said that horrible thing (because maybe he didn’t). I don’t want the jock/homo-phobic culture of the NFL to win, but I don’t people to be able to so callously disregard someone else’s livelihood. It’s hard enough out there.