Playing For The Other Team: Chris Kluwe Has Gone Off The Rails

Chris Kluwe has become a train wreck, and like all train wrecks, I can’t look away. It pains me to write these words, and I kind of expect backlash from my own community. In fact, I do feel a bit ashamed that I don’t have his back. After all, I’m a lesbian, and he’s been a vocal ally for GLBT equality for years, and, maybe more importantly, I’m a die-hard, life-long Packer fan, and he’s bashing the Vikings organization. Anything that reflects poorly on the Vikes usually gives me the giggles.

But I don’t. Have his back, that is.

Kluwe has long claimed, since a January Deadspin article, that he was released as punter for the Vikings prior to the 2013 season specifically because of his gay rights advocacy. Look, I don’t know whether that’s the truth or not. Only the Vikings know that, and Chris Kluwe thinks he knows that. At the time of his release, I was disappointed, mostly because it was inspiring having a professional athlete that was both articulate and funny standing up for us right here in my adopted state. At the same time, he was quickly picked up by the Raiders and I thought he’d continue to enjoy an NFL career and give another GLBT community a much needed boost.

Actually, at first I thought the Vikes were ridiculous for letting him go, but I’m of the opinion that most actions they take are ridiculous. See: last year’s quarterback circus. They’ve been making me laugh for years. That’s why it’s fun to be a Packer fan living in Minnesota. Yet, my favorite team’s method of operation seems to be letting aging, pricey, talented veterans go in order to replace them with younger and cheaper players (Brett Favre and Greg Jennings, anyone?) and they have done pretty well by that game plan, if I do say so myself.

Then, Kluwe was cut by the Raiders post-training camp upon failing to live up to their expectations. A few months later came his now infamous Deadspin article, “I Was An NFL Player Until I Was Fired By Two Cowards And A Bigot” (January 2, 2014). Like most people, and especially those in the gay community, I was disgusted by the claims in Kluwe’s article, especially coming so closely on the heels of our state’s quest for marriage equality. More fuel for my long-held Vikings hatred. I was a bit surprised the article came so long after Kluwe’s release from the Vikings, but he addressed that very concern in the column itself.

In damage control mode, the Vikings called for an investigation into their own organization. They hired former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson and former U.S. Department of Justice Trial Attorney Chris Madel, along with two football experts, former punter Craig Hentrich and former NFL Player Personnel Executive Jerry Angelo to determine, among other things, whether Kluwe’s claims of homophobia within the organization were true, and whether Kluwe’s activism was the reason for his release.

They completed their investigation sent their report to the Vikings. Kluwe called a press conference.

And this is where the train began to derail. Really? A press conference? A flight from his home in California to the IDS tower in Minneapolis during baseball’s All-Star week (read: a ton of press in town) to demand that the Vikings release the results of the investigation, because a little bird told him they might not?

Well, they did, press conference or not. Kind of. On Friday, June 18th, the Vikes release a 29-page “summary” report that painted both Kluwe and some of the Vikings staff in a very poor light. Among the findings:

  • Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer made disparaging remarks towards the GLBT community, and is now being required to serve a three-game suspension without pay for the 2014 football season.
  • Kluwe’s athletic performance was in decline compared to previous years; he was getting older, and he was expensive (compared to a young draft pick).
  • Furthermore, the report did not find evidence to support Kluwe’s claim that he was released due to his advocacy. Perhaps most troubling, the report cited an example of Kluwe’s own locker room behavior—cutting a hole in the bottom of his pants and pretending to be a Penn State rape victim toward his Penn State alumus strength and conditioning coach—as an example of Kluwe himself contributing to a negative, or less than ideal, locker room culture.

Post-summary report, Kluwe took to his favorite medium, Twitter, where he has 200k+ followers, to address the findings. Cue the train leaving the tracks.

The Penn State “joke”? Two consecutive tweets.

“Sure I gave my strength coach a hard time. Once. I made a joke about the Sandusky case, because he was a big Penn State guy.” “Over half the team did it for over a month, including asking him if he ‘raped any little boys lately,’ repeatedly, in front of coaches.”

The gay community’s most articulate ally reverted to “well, everyone else was doing it” on the subject of child molestation. Uffda.

A barrage of tweets followed, including the following:

“Oooh, shall we talk about the time two very well known Vikings players were caught in a compromising situation with an underage girl?” “Bet you didn’t hear about that one in the news. We can do this all day, Vikings. Special teams hears *everything*.” “But we’ll save all that for the trial. It’ll be more fun that way.”

C’mon man. Seriously? First of all—“fun”? For whom, the underage girl? Because you don’t bring up something like that and use a victim as a pawn. Not to mention, what does this have to do with the GLBT community or the reason for your release, and why on earth are you only bringing this up now?

The fact of the matter is, this has nothing to do with the GLBT community, or Kluwe’s advocacy on our part. It’s become quite evident, and not because of the Viking’s report (though Kluwe has since requested its release in full), but because of Kluwe’s own words. Of course, every one of these events has led the public to think that Chris Kluwe cares less about changing the culture of the Vikings organization, and more about keeping attention and the spotlight on himself.

I honestly don’t know if that’s the case, but it’s easy to see how people are coming to that conclusion. Whether he realizes it or not, he’s making himself look bad, and the rest of us, by association. He’s dragging us through the mud and doing more harm than good. People are jumping off the Kluwe bandwagon left and right. And I’m right there on the edge.

But he can fix it. If he really and truly cares more about GLBT rights as he claims, and about speaking up on our behalf, he only needs to do a few things. Namely,

  1. Stop speaking about it. Specifically, tweeting. Tweet about anything else. Keep tweeting about video games. Tweet about Michael Sam. Tweet about other things you’re doing for the GLBT community.
  2. Quit holding press conferences. Press conferences are for the press, and the press exist to incite us, and we’re the choir you’re preaching to. The Vikings don’t give two damns about the choir, though they probably care about being sued. And, if you are indeed suing, use that brilliant articulation in the courtroom, not in the court of public opinion.
  3. Don’t resort to mud-slinging. To “he said, she said.” Especially about things that sound like felonies. Keep quiet, and let your lawyer do his work.
  4. For once, let your actions speak louder than your words. Get out there and find another GLBT cause to support in your own local community. Volunteer at a GLBT center or with GLBT homeless youth. Teach them how to punt, or hold a football clinic. Let us see you in positive action.

I have empathy for Chris Kluwe, especially since he seems to have had empathy for us. I can understand a knee-jerk reaction to an investigation that didn’t reveal what was expected. I, too, have “stooped” to a lower level in many an argument. The good thing is, every moment is an opportunity to rise above. Every second is an opportunity to show us where your heart lies. Show us that you truly have our back, Chris, and not just a desire for vengeance, and we’ll have yours.

2 Responses to Playing For The Other Team: Chris Kluwe Has Gone Off The Rails

  1. Jim Boulger says:

    Dear Nell

    You have articulated this very well. I have also moved from my initial position of support for Mr. Kluwe to one of somewhat acerbic skepticism. While I certainly do not condone the stupidity on the part of some Vikings personnel, I really find it difficult when I see Mr Kluwe traveling the same path. Really makes me wonder about his motivations. Thanks again for your insights.

    Jim

  2. Nell Gelhaus says:

    Thanks, Jim! Love that you took the time to comment!

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