Pro football's gay rights activist

First aired on Q (12/07/13)

NFL kicker and outspoken gay rights advocate Chris Kluwe is helping redefine how people view professional football players. Last year, the veteran punter published an impassioned defence of gay marriage on the sports website Deadspin, and it went viral. Now he's published a book called Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies: On Myths, Morons, Free Speech, Football and Assorted Absurdities, in which he takes on other hot-button topics as well, such as gun control and racism.

In a recent interview on Q, Kluwe told host Jian Ghomeshi that he wrote the defence of same-sex marriage after an elected official in Maryland sent a letter to the Baltimore Ravens football organization saying that one of its employees had to stop speaking up about his support for the issue. The letter suggested, Kluwe said, that "no one wants to see football players talking out on issues, we're here to play football. I didn't take that very well."


Kluwe was surprised his letter went viral, but he welcomed the attention. "It was just gratifying to see people latching onto the idea that everyone should be free to live their own life. That's the kind of world we should live in," he said.

Kluwe isn't concerned that his outspokenness will affect his football career. "For me, whenever I'm going to do something, I do it to the best of my ability. Whenever I'm out on the football field, 100 per cent of my attention is focused on football. But then when I'm away from the football field, I'm free to live my own life as a private citizen of the United States of America."

Earlier this year, Kluwe was released by the Minnesota Vikings. There was speculation that it might have been due to his outspoken activism, but Kluwe didn't know the reason he was let go. "Really the only thing I can do is trust in the body of work I put together over the years," he said, adding that statistically he was the best punter in Vikings' history. He's now with the Oakland Raiders.

When asked about the roots of his activism, Kluwe credited his family. "I was raised by my parents to treat other people the way I would like to be treated. It's a very simple philosophy, we learned it in kindergarten," he said. "As I've grown older I've realized that the world I want to live in is one where everyone is free to live their own life. And in order for that to be the case, that depends on equal opportunity to succeed.... With the rise of social media, it's a lot easier to get that message out now as opposed to 15, 20 years ago, when you're only talking to your friends and family."

In his book, Kluwe writes about homophobia in sports, and calls professional sports "a bastion of bigotry, intolerance and prejudice." He points out that although sports is seen as solely entertainment, in the past it's played an important role in social change. He cited Jackie Robinson, who became the first African-American player in major league baseball.

"As athletes we are role models. And I believe that we should be good role models," Kluwe said. "We hear all the time about guys who make mistakes, who do something wrong. Why not hear about guys who do the right thing, who stand up for other people."

Kluwe acknowledged that there's a stereotypical image of football players as "knuckle-dragging troglodytes." That's reinforced by the fact that "the only news you hear about athletes tends to be negative." But Kluwe says the majority of pro football players don't get into trouble with the law and conduct themselves responsibly -- they just don't get the same publicity.

Though Kluwe enjoys playing football, he argues in his book that the sport is a distraction from more pressing issues. "It's such a huge industry, and we pour so much money into it, but at the same time, we're closing schools, we're cutting science budgets, we're building more prisons," he said. "Historically, that's not a good sign for a civilization."

Kluwe acknowledges, though, that being a football player has given him a platform. "Hopefully we'll get to the point that our athletes and our movie stars and our musicians aren't our primary role models," he said. "Instead it's our educators, it's our scientists."

Above all, Kluwe thinks it's Important to stand up for what he believes. "If no one ever says anything, then nothing ever changes," he said. "And that's not the type of society I want to live in."

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