Saturday, January 4, 2014

Words About Chris Kluwe, or "Pay Attention to Sports for Once, Chumps!"

Recently, former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe wrote a nearly 4,000-word open letter on Deadspin, claiming that it's very likely that his outspoken, and often hilarious, advocacy for marriage equality was the reason he was let go from the team this year. Because many of my friends don't follow sports, this has sparked minor Facebook outrage, as it has been shared and spread and commented on, because let's face it, folks, we love a good excuse to be outraged. And outraged we should be, if in fact that is the reason.

Except, it's probably not. At least not 100%. The issue here is that Chris Kluwe was an eight-year veteran, and last year, he was the second-lowest-ranked punter in the NFL. He's 31 years old, and he was at the end of his contract for a team that had been quite clear about moving out older players for younger performers. While I'm sure that Kluwe's appearance in the public eye, in conservative Minnesota, may not have done much to convince the team to keep him, the truth is that the Vikings could get someone younger for cheaper, who would probably do better. I've been a big supporter of Chris Kluwe for a long time, but we have to remember that he also stopped being good at his job.
Also, I feel it should be observed that Chris Kluwe is just like,
ridiculously good-looking.

My fellow lefties, I implore you: Do NOT try to make Chris Kluwe our Phil Robertson. Don't make "I stand with Kluwe" Facebook posts. Don't create a hashtag. Don't pretend you knew who Chris Kluwe was before the past week. Just do not try it. I know how tempting it is for us to want to put a face to the discrimination (besides, y'know, the literally thousands of actually-discriminated faces), but this is too easily disproven, and in fact plays right into the "political correctness gone wild" stereotype that right-wingers love to throw out. In fact, we don't need to have our own Phil Robertson. We're better than this. We have the ability to rationalize and to look at things in context, and to realize the greater issues beyond the superficial face that we can easily point to.

So here we go. This is a decent opportunity to remind people that there are still 29 states where you can get actually fired for being gay -- not just let go at the end of a contract several years after saying you like gay people. But more important and more directly related to the story are Kluwe's allegations that Vikings special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer became a bully to him, declaring that he used homophobic language to him -  and worse.

Throughout the months of September, October, and November, Minnesota Vikings special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer would use homophobic language in my presence. He had not done so during minicamps or fall camp that year, nor had he done so during the 2011 season. 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, and he would constantly belittle or demean any idea of acceptance or tolerance. I tried to laugh these off while also responding with the notion that perhaps they were human beings who deserved to be treated as human beings. Mike Priefer also said on multiple occasions that I would wind up burning in hell with the gays, and that the only truth was Jesus Christ and the Bible. He said all this in a semi-joking tone, and I responded in kind, as I felt a yelling match with my coach over human rights would greatly diminish my chances of remaining employed.
...Near the end of November, several teammates and I were walking into a specialist meeting with Coach Priefer. We were laughing over one of the recent articles I had written supporting same-sex marriage rights, and one of my teammates made a joking remark about me leading the Pride parade. 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." The room grew intensely quiet, and none of the players said a word for the rest of the meeting.
As ESPN's Kevin Seifert observes, these allegations are the most important and interesting part of Kluwe's story if they prove true. Because of bullying and harassment allegations coming out of the Miami Dolphins' locker room, the NFL is already reconsidering and analyzing their workplace policies and definitely instilling harsher policies for unacceptable harassment. When this happens, there will be backlash. The NFL, and professional sports in general, are still vestiges of "old boy" attitudes and many will take affront to the notion that men trained to mercilessly brutalize each other physically may not have to do it verbally. I'm not saying off-color jabs and trash-talk should be off-limits, but I do agree with Seifert when he says "Words are the most powerful weapon in advocating -- and blocking -- social change." A change to the NFL's policies would be a signal of an influential and powerful change. There is a real issue here that Chris Kluwe's rantings may unearth still which we should be focusing on and paying attention to. Let's not hide it behind an easily-disproven story for the sake of having a face to rally around.

No matter how luxurious the hair
attached to that face may be.

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