Chris Kluwe was the punter for the Minnesota Vikings for eight years. In May 2013, the Vikings fired him for defying the coaches and owners by speaking out in favor of same-sex marriage rights.
In a recent article, “I Was An NFL Player Until I Was Fired By Two Cowards And A Bigot,” Kluwe retells the story of what happened to him. During the summer of 2012, he spoke out against what was known as the Minnesota Gay Marriage Amendment, which tried to define marriage as “only a union of a man and a woman.” After getting approval from the Vikings legal department, he did several radio announcements and a talk at a dinner for Minnesotans for Marriage Equality.
After Kluwe spoke out, he received silent support from team members and other players in the NFL. Soon Baltimore Ravens linebacker, Brendon Ayanbadejo, spoke in favor of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland. A Maryland state legislator, Emmett C. Burns Jr., wrote to the owner telling him to “inhibit such expressions from your employee.” In response, Kluwe wrote a letter of his own defending Ayanbadejo. As soon as that letter was published, it went viral. The first lines of the letter read: “I find it inconceivable that you are an elected official of Maryland’s state government. Your vitriolic hatred and bigotry make me ashamed and disgusted to think that you are in any way responsible for shaping policy at any level.”
Soon afterwards, the Vikings coaching staff began to put more pressure on him not to speak out. The Vikings head coach told him he “needed to be quiet, and stop speaking out on this stuff.” He told Kluwe, “a wise coach once told me: there are two things you don’t talk about in the NFL – politics and religion.” And another Vikings coach, Mike Preifer, the special-teams coordinator, had it out for Kluwe. According to Kluwe, “Priefer would use homophobic language in my presence…He would ask me if I had written any letters defending ‘the gays’ recently and denounce as disgusting the idea that two men would kiss.” Kluwe wrote that during one meeting with Priefer and several players, “as we sat down in our chairs, Mike Priefer, in one of the meanest voices I can ever recall hearing, said: ‘We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.’”
Kluwe continued to express his opinions openly, refusing to be silenced, and eventually he was kicked off the team in May, 2013.
The idea that politics and sports don’t mix is nonsense. Sports are part of this society, and banks and corporations never hesitate to use athletes and sports to push whatever agendas they choose. At every turn, companies use athletes for advertisements to make more money. But when athletes refuse to go along with this and express their own opinions, they are told to shut up, and their careers are threatened.
When players use their platform as athletes, in the public eye, to stand up against bigotry of any sort, or to give support to important social struggles, it’s important – it can have a small impact, and it can be encouraging. The more athletes who stand up and speak out like Chris Kluwe the better.