Chris Kluwe: Kick Ass
By Cyd Zeigler
With all the attention on Kluwe’s letter, it’s easy to forget that he was, in turn, inspired by another football player, the Ravens’s Ayanbadejo, busy fighting his own corner in Baltimore. In November, voters in both Minnesota and Maryland will be faced with marriage-equality ballot initiatives, so the high-profile stance of Kluwe and Ayanbadejo could have real and profound consequences. The positions of both men not only reflect how quickly opinion is shifting, but also spotlight the need to check our own preconceptions of the sports world as inherently intolerant and homophobic.
“I’ve always relished breaking that stereotype of the dumb jock athlete because while I enjoyed athletics growing up, I also enjoyed reading and video games, and athletic sport is not what defines me as a person,” says Kluwe. “I think as more and more generations start rising through the NFL, a lot of these kids see that it’s OK to be something other than an athlete.”
ESPN radio sportscaster, Jared Max, who came out in 2011, agrees, pointing out that the lifespan of an NFL player is much shorter than most other sports, generating faster turnover. “I strongly believe that goodness is contagious and that others will jump on board as the younger generation begins to populate the NFL,” he says, with some justification given a recent poll by Outsports.com, which identified 28 current NFL players who’ve expressed support for gay rights. For Max, players like Kluwe and Ayanbadejo deserve comparison to earlier taboo-busters like Branch Rickey, who broke through Major League Baseball’s color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers in 1945.
But for Kluwe, taking a stand on gay rights is as instinctual as planting his foot into a ball. “It’s all about the Golden Rule,” he says. “Treat other people as you want to be treated. It’s that simple. It’s something that needs to be spoken about, and it’s something I can do while fulfilling my job as a football player.”
Growing up in Los Alamitos, Calif., 20 miles south of Los Angeles, Kluwe’s parents preached to their son a mantra of tolerance with a profanity-free lexicon. Neither stuck at the time. As a tween, gay slurs peppered his speech with the same heedlessness as his peers. “Unfortunately, as kids, sometimes you don’t understand what your words can mean because you’re not emotionally mature enough yet,” he says. “As you grow up and start learning about the world, you realize, Hey, some of this stuff is hurtful; I would not want to be treated that way. That’s part of maturing.”