Sports Now
Ray Rice wins suspension appeal, deals rare upset to NFL authority
SportsNFL

Punter Chris Kluwe lacks an NFL job, but he isn't finished kicking

NFLSportsFootballPro FootballMinority GroupsSocial IssuesMinnesota Vikings
Chris Kluwe says his NFL team dismissed him because of his advocacy of same-sex marriage
The Minnesota Vikings deny Chris Kluwe was let go over marriage equality
Chris Kluwe says his advocacy has led to a career as an author, speaker

The footballs boom off his foot, sailing high and far, the equivalent of 45, even 50 yards beyond a line of scrimmage. And when the kicker eases up a bit to concentrate on location, he rolls punts within three feet of each other.

If Chris Kluwe had his way, he'd be in Minnesota now, fine-tuning his skills for the start of Vikings training camp.

Instead, his kicks sail over an empty baseball field at a sports complex a few blocks from his family's Huntington Beach home.

The Vikings got rid of him and the rest of the NFL has turned its back on him, but he is still kicking. Literally and figuratively.

"I haven't officially retired from the NFL," he says. "Obviously, if a team called I would go back."

He knows that's not likely to happen, even though he established several Vikings records during his eight-year career.

Kluwe, 32, last punted in the NFL during the 2012 season, having been unceremoniously dumped in May of last year.

The Vikings say his numbers had dropped, and they used a fifth-round draft pick to replace him. Kluwe, noting the statistics from the previous season were consistent with his career numbers, offers a different explanation.

He says the team fired him because his coaches disagreed with his vocal advocacy of same-sex marriage.

In an article published on Deadspin.com in January, Kluwe said Vikings Coach Leslie Frazier repeatedly tried to dissuade him from publicly supporting same-sex marriage, saying Kluwe needed "to be quiet, and stop speaking out on this stuff."

Kluwe also criticized Mike Priefer, saying the Vikings' special teams coach expressed anti-gay sentiments throughout the previous season, and told Kluwe that he would "burn in hell with the gays" and that "We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and nuke it until it glows."

Kluwe also alleged Priefer discriminated against him for his agnostic beliefs.

Priefer denied Kluwe's allegations in a statement, saying, "I want to be clear that I do not tolerate discrimination of any type and am respectful of all individuals. I personally have gay family members who I love and support just as I do any family member."

The Vikings denied Kluwe's allegations against Frazier and the team in a statement that read in part: "Any notion that Chris was released from our football team due to his stance on marriage equality is entirely inaccurate and inconsistent with team policy."

The team says it has launched an independent investigation into the matter and would not comment until its work is complete.

Kluwe says he will file a lawsuit if no action is taken after the probe. His lawyer, Clayton D. Halunen, says Kluwe wants an acknowledgment of what happened, an apology from Priefer and diversity education for the Vikings players and staff.

Since his release, Kluwe has tried out for the Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, Oakland Raiders and Cincinnati Bengals but has been unable to land a job.

He thinks his outspoken nature — specifically on the topic of supporting same-sex marriage — has made NFL teams hesitant to hire him.

"They want someone who won't talk," he says.

Kluwe, a graduate of Los Alamitos High and UCLA, has been willing to share his opinion on a number of topics.

In 2011, during an NFL lockout, Kluwe responded to news reports that an agreement between team owners and the players' union was being held up by concerns for a few top players by tweeting that those players — Peyton Manning and Drew Brees among them — were "greedy."

Kluwe was criticized for the comment by former NFL tight end Nate Jackson, who chastised the punter for speaking "out of turn" in an article published by sports website Deadspin. Kluwe responded with his own article, colorfully dismissing Jackson and adding, "I don't really care what you or anyone else thinks about what I say or when I say it. If I see something greedy, hypocritical, or just plain stupid, I'm going to call out whoever the offending party happens to be. I've done it to the owners; I've done it to the NFL front office; and I'll certainly do it if I see it happen with the players."

Kluwe also took to Deadspin in September 2012 when he lambasted Maryland state delegate Emmett Burns in a letter filled with expletives. Burns drew Kluwe's ire by asking Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti to censor linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo about his support of same-sex marriage.

The letter went viral and just like that Kluwe, who has a wife and two daughters, became something a spokesman for same-sex marriage.

Later in 2012, Kluwe quit a blog he had been writing for the St. Paul Pioneer-Press in protest of an editorial that supported an amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota. The following February, Kluwe joined Ayanbadejo in filing a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court supporting a challenge to Proposition 8, which had blocked same-sex marriage in California.

Kluwe says his advocacy may have cost him a couple of seasons in the NFL, but he acknowledges that it has opened the doors to a new career as an author and speaker on human rights — he doesn't limit himself to gay rights.

Last summer, he released his first book, a compilation of essays entitled "Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies: On Myths, Morons, Free Speech, Football and Assorted Absurdities."

He's on the road several times a month and packs auditoriums wherever he speaks. In one month, he gave talks at the American Atheists Convention in Salt Lake City, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, UCLA and the University of Minnesota at Duluth.

Most often, he walks onstage wearing a hoodie, T-shirt and shorts and takes on issues as varied as education, space travel, same-sex rights and football.

Sometimes his quick topic changes confuse his audience, but Kluwe says his message is simple: treat others the way you want to be treated.

He learned this rule not only from his parents, but also the science fiction novels he read as a kid in which the conflicts typically centered on one group oppressing another.

"It's really just a matter of fairness," Kluwe says. "Why would you do this to someone else when you don't want it done to you? That just doesn't make sense."

Recently, he has been asked a lot about Michael Sam, the Missouri defensive end who could become the first openly gay athlete in the NFL. Sam was chosen by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round ofthe NFL draft.

"Someone's sexuality doesn't matter when it comes to a 4-3 defense or running a route," Kluwe says. "Players understand that this shouldn't be an issue."

However, coaches and front-office executives could be another matter, Kluwe said, because they tend to avoid players they see as distractions — which is how they might view Sam should he decide to start speaking out.

Personally, Kluwe believes New York Jets quarterback Michael Vick's past legal troubles involving a dogfighting ring and Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper's use of a racial slur are bigger distractions than Sam's sexual orientation.

"You're saying that human rights is a distraction but all this other stuff is fine and those guys can play?" Kluwe says. "If that is your argument, what does that say about you as a human being?"

As for his own advocacy, Kluwe says he's proud he took a stand for same-sex couples even if it may have cost him his job.

"I would rather not have a job because I spoke out for human rights than still have a job and stay silent," he says.

Still, a part of Kluwe misses football. He thinks he could have played a few more years and closed out his career with the Vikings. He wanted to make the Pro Bowl and dreamed of winning the Super Bowl.

"I think he feels in his mind his career was cut short," Ayanbadejo says. "He still wants to play football. … But I think every day the ship sails a little bit further from the port."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
NFLSportsFootballPro FootballMinority GroupsSocial IssuesMinnesota Vikings
Comments
Loading