Vikings punter Chris Kluwe takes a stand for marriage equality
Most professional athletes owe their fame to plays on the field and scandals off it. But that isn’t the case with Chris Kluwe, an NFL player who made a household name for himself after speaking out for—of all things—gay rights. Until September, Kluwe was best known as a quirky Minnesota Vikings punter and word- nerd with a knack for the online role-playing game World of Warcraft.
All of that changed when Emmett Burns, a gay rights opponent and Maryland state delegate tried to censor Baltimore Raven Brendon Ayenbadejo after the football player spoke out in support of gay marriage. When Kluwe got wind of this, he called the legislator out. In an eloquently profane, 758-word literary tirade, Kluwe deemed Burns “mindfuckingly, obscenely hypocritical” and a “narcissistic fromunda stain.” The letter went viral, and Kluwe—a heterosexual, husband, and father of two—became the latest face of LGBT advocacy overnight.
Writing the letter was a no-brainer for the Savage, Minn., football player. “This is a human and civil rights issue, one that needs to be confronted sooner rather than later,” he says. “I can only control my life, and that’s all I ask other people to do—respect the rights of others to live the way they choose as long as it doesn’t involve the oppression of someone else.”
While he has always staunchly supported marriage equality, Kluwe, 30, wasn’t always seen as a political figure. Around Minneapolis, he has a long-standing reputation as one of the most colorful characters in town. Kluwe has played with the Vikings since 2005 and made headlines for selling his jersey number to another player in exchange for a $5,000 donation to charity—and an ice cream cone. He also plays bass in local band Tripping Icarus. And when he’s not on the field or with his family, he’s an avid gamer. (He boasts 8,000 achievement points on WoW with his character, a troll named Loate, but reportedly quit last year because “it wasn’t a challenge anymore.”)
Since getting swept up in the marriage debate, Kluwe has adjusted to his role as a high- profile marriage equality proponent, even posing shirtless for gay lifestyle magazine Out. He put his celebrity status to use in Minnesota to rally voters against a constitutional amendment that would make gay marriage illegal in the state. A strong voice in the “Vote No” campaign, Kluwe recorded commercials and worked with several organizations—including Minnesotans for Equality and Minnesotans United for All Families. His efforts were rewarded in November when the amendment was defeated.
But Kluwe acknowledges there’s still a marriage equality battle in the state. “Defeating this amendment won’t make same-sex marriage legal in Minnesota, but it will allow us the chance to make a decision on its future instead of taking away our right to vote entirely,” he says. “I’d like to increase my role as an advocate because I think I can help make a difference in the way this issue is viewed. I have a unique platform as an athlete to get messages out, and I feel that this issue is important enough to take a stand on.”
Kluwe isn’t the only athlete to be vocal about his support for gay marriage—Scott Fujita of the Cleveland Browns, Antonio Cromartie of the New York Jets, and Connor Barwin of the Houston Texans have all voiced similar sentiments. Their standing up may spark improved gay-straight relations in the NFL, a stereotypically homophobic arena. “If enough of us speak out, we can help convince people that just because you’re gay, it doesn’t mean you should be treated any less human,” Kluwe says, noting he’s received support from several teammates since writing the letter. “It’s not as bad as it once was, but there are still barriers to overcome. Primarily, it’s guys not being tolerant of others’ points of view. But as the years go past, I think we’ll see that fade out more and more.”
As far as the future of LGBT rights, Kluwe thinks the country is headed in the right direction—but that there’s still work to be done. “I think it’s unfortunate we still feel the need to classify people based on labels. You shouldn’t have to be ‘proud’ of your sexuality just like you shouldn’t have to be ‘proud’ that you’re against slavery,” he says. “In 50 years, what will our children think when they look back at our actions? What do we think of how our parents and grandparents acted during segregation?”