Vikings' punter Chris Kluwe isn’t afraid to speak his mind, and yes, that is a good thing.
Updated: May 5, 2013 - 12:03 AM
Chris Kluwe’s tenure as Vikings punter will end soon. He knows it, the team knows it, everyone knows it. It’s just a matter of executing the paperwork.
“Most teams generally don’t draft a punter in the fifth round unless that’s who they’re going to go with,” Kluwe said. “They said they would let me know Monday after the rookie minicamp.”
Kluwe’s fate was sealed the moment the Vikings drafted UCLA punter Jeff Locke. General Manager Rick Spielman talked about creating competition, but Kluwe won’t be around long enough to participate in that competition.
Unless Locke flops in the rookie minicamp or assumes the fetal position over the prospect of being inside an NFL locker room, the job is his and Kluwe moves on.
Regardless of whether they admit it, the Vikings are jettisoning Kluwe partly because they grew tired of his outspokenness. It’s naive to think the move is based solely on his age (31), salary ($1.45 million) or how he performed last season (inconsistently). Kluwe has become the most visible punter in NFL history because of his social activism. The Vikings deny that Kluwe’s public stance on issues factored into their decision — not that they would ever admit it — but they likely prefer someone who embraces the anonymous life of an NFL punter.
That’s entirely their prerogative, of course. Teams release players all the time for any number of reasons. The Vikings unloaded Percy Harvin because they basically thought he was a head case and too unpredictable.
Kluwe has developed a wide audience and become a polarizing figure as a staunch advocate for same-sex marriage. Whether it’s gay rights, player safety or Ray Guy’s omission from the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Kluwe isn’t afraid to voice his opinion. And he refuses to apologize for that, even if it contributes to his exit.
“This is me,” he said. “I pay attention to what goes on in the world, and I like to speak up when I see something.”
Kluwe’s expected release could result in some backlash by fans who applaud his support of same-sex marriage. A handful of teams need punters, so he could find a job elsewhere. Kluwe also understands that teams might pass on him because they view him as a distraction. He believes he has four or five good seasons left as a punter, but he refuses to muffle his activism just to get a job.
“I think the sacrifice would be worth it,” he said. “Now, I would hope that I would get the chance to play football again, because I think I can still play. But if it ends up being something that costs me that position, I think making people aware of an issue that is causing children to commit suicide is more important than kicking a leather ball.”
Kluwe’s support of same-sex marriage has landed him appearances on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show’’ and “The Colbert Report.’’ He’s been interviewed by CNN, MSNBC and the BBC and posed for OUT Magazine. He has nearly 170,000 Twitter followers (about 40,000 more than Christian Ponder). Name another NFL team in which the punter has more Twitter followers than the quarterback.
Kluwe’s departure will make the Vikings locker room a lot more dull because he is incredibly intelligent, articulate and passionate about societal issues. He’s a fascinating individual in a sport that breeds conformity. The NFL has become so big and so powerful that players often cling to political correctness for fear that a ripple might swell into a tidal wave. Kluwe is that surfer dude on top of the wave, hanging 10 on any issue that stirs his emotion.
“No single thing that I do defines me as a person,” he said. “Just because I play football, that doesn’t define me as a person.”
OK, he can be a little rebellious, too. In response to special teams coordinator Mike Priefer’s public admonishment that Kluwe needs to “focus on punting” after his Ray Guy uniform display, Kluwe began finishing tweets with the hashtag #sofocused. But it’s absurd when people blame a bad punt on the belief that Kluwe is too distracted by his activism.
“When I’m at the facility, I’m concentrating 100 percent on my job because that’s what I’m being paid to do,” Kluwe said. “But when I’m away from the facility, I’m no longer at my job. I get to live my life. This idea that you have to spend 24 hours a day thinking about your job frankly is unhealthy. It’s insane.”
Kluwe enjoys myriad pursuits. He has written his first book that’s scheduled to be released June 25. The book is titled “Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies” and features a collection of short stories and essays based on rational empathy.
“Societies that don’t nurture empathy as a worthwhile trait inevitably collapse because they foster discord and conflict within themselves, and that eventually brings them down,” he said.
Kluwe envisions a writing career post-football. He’s also been contacted by political operatives to gauge his interest in politics. “I hate politics,” he noted.
He’s not ready to turn the page on football just yet, though. He believes he can still do the job effectively.
“My career averages are good,” he said. “It’s not like I’ve been scraping by. I really hope that I get a chance to catch on with someone else.”
So do I. The NFL is simply more interesting with Chris Kluwe in it.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org
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