Under the Spotlight is a feature series that focuses on the rising stars of tomorrow, and those which have achieved success beyond the limits of their respected field. The series will be run by Urban Times editor Christian Julal.
Chris Kluwe is best known for his role as a punter for the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League (NFL). He was one of the most surprising pickups for the Vikings in 2005, finishing the season with an average of 44.1 yards per punt; consequently placing him second in the NFC and sixth in the league. Having also broken nearly every team record in his field, he is quietly one of the most valuable players the Vikings has ever had. But in 2012, Chris Kluwe made headlines for a completely different reason.
In October of last year, Kluwe sent an eloquently-written letter to Deadspin in response to Emmett C. Burns, Jr.’s opposition against Baltimore Ravens linebacker, Brendon Ayanbajedo’s support for same-sex marriage. Maryland State Delegate, Burns’ urged the Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti that Ayanbajedo’s endorsement “would step into this controversial divide” and “has no place in a sport that is strictly for pride, entertainment and excitement.” Outraged, in the letter, Kluwe wrote:
Did you seriously just say that, as someone who is, according to your Wikipedia page, “deeply involved in government task forces on the legacy of slavery in Maryland”? Have you not heard of Kenny Washington? Jackie Robinson? As recently as 1962 the NFL still had segregation, which was only done away with by brave athletes and coaches daring to speak their mind and do the right thing, and you’re going to say that political views have “no place in a sport”? I can’t even begin to fathom the cognitive dissonance that must be coursing through your rapidly addled mind right now; the mental gymnastics your brain has to tortuously contort itself through to make such a preposterous statement are surely worthy of an Olympic gold medal (the Russian judge gives you a 10 for “beautiful oppressionism”).
This is more a personal quibble of mine, but why do you hate freedom? Why do you hate the fact that other people want a chance to live their lives and be happy, even though they may believe in something different from what you believe, or act differently from you? How does gay marriage affect your life in any way, shape, or form?
In a recent interview with Ian Gordon from Mother Jones, Kluwe stated that Del. Burns’ letter kept him up after reading it. “I had practice in the morning, but I literally could not sleep because I kept thinking about this letter and I knew I had to counter it.” Kluwe also said that: “As athletes, we are encouraged to not say a whole lot because that can hurt the team… you run the risk of becoming a distraction.“ But his strong belief for equality motivated him to persist against the issue.
Despite the league’s masculine culture, Kluwe said: “I had quite a few teammates come up to me and say: ‘We appreciate you speaking out in support of Brendon. We may not agree with you on that marriage issue, but at the same time everybody has got the right to speak.’ And then I’ve had a couple teammates come up and say, ‘We agree with you, we think you did the right thing, and that was a great letter you wrote.’”
According to family, teammates and coaches, Kluwe is known for having “no filter” and has always had a way with words. His writing style can allegedly be attributed to the storied history of World of Warcraft, and his participation in forum boards. “And in that context, the letter was actually really tame. I toned it down quite a few notches.”
In the end, what I appreciate about Kluwe’s story is the fact that he spoke up and showed support for same-sex marriage in spite being part of a “macho” environment. By doing so he is helping society transgress forward, and opening minds of young people who support the sport. What he said during the Colbert Report Show should hold true for everyone. “People are people and deserve to be treated the same as everyone else.” We should all be entitled to the same rights, in spite of race, educational background, or gender.