If you haven’t been following the saga around former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, here’s a quick synopsis: In 2012, Kluwe was approached to speak on behalf of some gay rights activists groups, which he accepted because it’s an issue about which he feels strongly. Deadspin published a letter he wrote to a Maryland delegate chastising him for trying to suppress Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo’s support for gay athletes. Minnesota management didn’t like that, and tried to keep him quiet while he continued his activism, including tweets about the Pope, etc.
It was all pretty unoffensive stuff, but Kluwe was released in May of 2013. According to another letter he posted on Deadspin, Kluwe can’t be 100% certain it was because of his public activism, but he’s pretty sure it was:
However, it’s clear to me that no matter how much I want to prove I can play, I will no longer punt in the NFL, especially now that I’ve written this account. Whether it’s my age, my minimum veteran salary, my habit of speaking my mind, or (most likely) a combination of all three, my time as a football player is done. Punters are always replaceable, at least in the minds of those in charge, and I realize that in advocating noisily for social change I only made it easier for them to justify not having me around. So it goes.
Here’s my thing: I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s right, and it’s all pretty fucked up if he is. On a certain level, everyone is entitled to their beliefs, and they ought to have the opportunity to voice them. On the other hand, I’m annoyed that Chris Kluwe, who himself presents several good reasons why he’s not worth hiring, takes to a wildly popular sports blog to complain about getting axed because he does so under the blanket of championing civil rights.
What Kluwe doesn’t understand is that it’s impossible to entirely divorce himself from his profession in the eyes of the public. His whole stance was “these statements were my own, not the team’s, so they shouldn’t have cared.” It doesn’t work that way. Ask anyone who’s been fired for tweeting things with which their employer didn’t want to be associated – sticking “all opinions are my own” in your twitter bio doesn’t cut it. In Kluwe’s case, it’s even more pronounced because being employed by an NFL team is the only reason his words carry weight and influence. Him saying that he supports gay rights as an individual will always be reported as “Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe says he supports gay rights.” In fact, it wouldn’t be reported otherwise.
To me, It’s not an issue of whether or not the Vikings agree with him; it’s an issue of him pulling a football team into a discussion they don’t have to be a part of by virtue of opening his mouth. Yes, you can argue (and I would agree) that a football team, with their unique ability to reach millions of impressionable fans every Sunday, could use that influence to support Kluwe’s message. Hell, given that it’s a pretty basic issue of human rights, maybe they even should do that. Could, and should, but don’t have to.
I realize that a failure to act is almost as bad as acting negatively, but if we don’t want to treat corporations like people, we shouldn’t hold them to the same standards of activism as people, either. I don’t want politics mixed with my sports, and while I agree with Kluwe and commend his courage to speak out, having a more progressive world view than some people in the NFL isn’t exactly a major accomplishment. The Vikings didn’t want to get involved on a national scale, but he gave them no choice. If that’s really why they let him go, again, that’s fucked up, but I don’t entirely blame them.