Interview with Author, NFL Punter, LGBT Advocate, and All-Around Swell Guy Chris Kluwe
This is a little outside our wheelhouse, but we here at Puckbuddys strive to bring you sport (usually hockey!) with a dash of gay. With that in mind, your humble Islanders scribe tracked down one of the most outspoken LGBT advocates in the sports world, critically acclaimed author, 8 year NFL Veteran, Former Minnesota Viking and Oakland Raider, UCLA Bruin, and hilarious dude, Chris Kluwe. CK first garnered my attention for this: which is hilarious and you should read it post-haste if you haven’t already.
That entire vulgarity ripe letter has a point, and it’s one of the focal themes of Mr. Kluwe’s book “Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies”, which you can buy here. PS: You should buy that.
VP: You mentioned trying to tackle Devin Hester by name. When a guy like him or Cribbs or Patrick Peterson gets passed the gunners, how quick do you go from the smug accomplishment of ‘well, I punted the hell out of that football’ to ‘oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!’?
CK: Every time a returner starts running the ball back it’s always “ohshitohshitohshit” because you never know what will happen. Returners in the NFL are just so dangerous, they can pop a big return at any time.
VP: What was the best hit you ever put on somebody, and does it bother you when the guys on the sideline or in the booth make such a huge deal out of a Punter smoking somebody like it was completely out of the realm of normalcy?
CK: I don’t think I’ve ever put a hit on anyone. I’ve been run over a bunch of times, but it saved the touchdown, so I’m ok with that. As Aristotle said, “Know thyself.” 🙂
VP: You’re currently a free agent. I, as you do, don’t feel your advocacy was in any way a factor in your release from either the Vikes or Raiders. However, I am curious if some teams in some conservative markets would be unwilling to hire such a prominent LGBT allied voice. Have you given that any thought?
CK: We’ll see what happens. The NFL claims that if you can play then you can play, but the proof is in the actions, not the words.
VP: Does it bother you on a Sunday when you’re not on the field? Do you watch the game or try to get away from it with the newfound time off?
CK: I’ve been live tweeting games, because my wife really enjoys watching football and it gives me something to do. People on Twitter seem to enjoy it, so I guess I’ll keep doing it.
VP: You played baseball growing up. My softball team needs a right fielder. Just saying, since you’re available…
CK: I actually played as a ringer on my buddy’s softball team in Minnesota, threw out quite a few people who thought they could score from second on a single to right field.
VP: You stated a couple of times the hazard of unions. Are you anti-union as you’re anti-corporation? Those don’t seem to go hand in hand. I mean, the NFLPA and the retired guys have done some good work on player safety lately. It’s such a weird dynamic as compared to our civil service union I’m in. Do you guys have union meetings? Is the food good? Or do they just take a slice out of your paycheck and leave you feeling unsatisfied?
CK: It’s more the same argument that fanaticism is bad (whether that be union or corporate or religious or atheist or whatever). If your view of a union is that you should get paid just for showing up, and that the union’s sole job is to provide you work despite how shitty you might be at it, you’re just as bad as the manager who thinks everyone is interchangeable and outsources everything to child labor in China.
It’s always about balance and making sure the long-term effects are beneficial (a good union promotes competent workers who are invested in their job, which helps both the workers and the company; a bad union drives both out of business). We have union reps from each team, but it’s different from a standard union in that you don’t know whether you’ll have work or not from year to year (since our salaries aren’t guaranteed).
VP: Away from the sportsball for a few here! My steadfast thanks for this book, which was like a flotation device while my mind was adrift in the sea of madness that is thesis writing. What was your favorite part of the creative process? You mentioned your band, how are the feelings in song making and story crafting similar and or different? Is there anything cut out of the book you lament?
CK: My favorite part of the creative process was whenever an idea occurred to me and I was able to flow with it through the entire piece. It’s like playing a riff, loving the way it sounds, and then almost instinctively rolling into another riff that complements it perfectly. Story crafting and song writing are slightly different though, in that one is very individual (story crafting) and the other is very collaborative (song writing). They’re both very enjoyable in different ways. There wasn’t anything cut from the book that I miss – I tried only to submit things I felt were good enough to go in and apparently the publisher agreed with me 🙂
VP: Your book was unconventional in one immediately noticeable way, honestly. It just flowed from topic to topic and back and forth. Why go this way rather than a traditional layout?
CK: One of the things I wanted to do was present the book as almost a snapshot into my mind, and that’s the way I think (all over the place with constant parenthetical asides). Reading BUS should ideally be like having a conversation with me, only I’m not actually standing there.
VP: A topic you touched on in the book at great length is the evolution of technology. As a gamer myself, I used to think Blades of Steel was as good as life was going to get. Now, I’ve had people see NHL 14 or Madden on the TV and think they are actually watching a real game. The graphics have reached that level of realism. When you see where we are from where we were in 1990, does the kind of tech we will have in 2030 give you dread or excitement?
CK: I think it’s equal parts dread and excitement, because I think tech will become almost totally immersive (which you can see now with the development of the Occulus Rift event, more event details on Gamingbuff.com). You’ll be able to actually inhabit a game world, which is a really cool thing to think about. However, the down side to that is losing touch with reality, which I touch on briefly in one of the pieces in BUS – the idea that when you can live someone else’s life, you may choose to do that instead of living your own.
VP: The reason I couldn’t wait to bother you, frankly, is because although you said it’s awkward when gay people thank you for your advocacy, I (and by extension all of us at Puckbuddys) wanted to thank you for your advocacy for us. Given your impassioned involvement in the MN-SSM fight and your letter to Mr. Burns as well as the Supreme Court, please describe your reaction to the Supreme Court rulings and how you feel this positions the movement going forward?
CK: I feel like the Supreme Court got it half right.
Overturning DOMA was clearly the right thing to do, but they had a chance to really make some changes with Prop 8 and instead they punted it (har har puns) back down to the state level, when they could have reinforced the precedent already set in Loving v. Virginia that marriage is a fundamental human right. I feel that, unfortunately, our Supreme Court is more worried about political agendas instead of doing what is just.
VP: What’s the next move for gay equality in your opinion? Has President Obama, who scored election and re-election partially owing to the gay vote, done enough for that constituency, or should he have done more?
CK: I think President Obama has been a reluctant warrior for gay rights, in that he made a lot of promises, but really dragged his feet getting them done. On the flip side, at least they eventually got done, which is much better than the alternatives. The next move for gay equality is making marriage legal in all 50 states, and getting rid of the laws that allow people to be fired based on their sexuality – laws like that are clearly discrimination, and as a country we need to understand that discrimination is discrimination, whether it be by skin color, gender, religious beliefs, or sexuality.
VP: We here at Puckbuddys are dedicated to providing a LGBT view on the sport of hockey. I find the locker-room is by far and away a ridiculous place to expect political correctness: We all say crazy shit. Do you think locker-room rhetoric is indicative at all of an athletes feelings on a given matter, or merely ‘boys being boys’?
CK: I think it’s indicative of the culture guys are raised in, and may not necessarily reflect their true feelings on a matter. Most of the guys I’ve met want nothing more than to be free to live their own lives and are perfectly happy to let others do the same, but when you’re raised in a culture where “gay,” “homo,” and “fag” are insults, you’re going to use them when you want to insult other people (which happens frequently in locker rooms, we like insulting each other). It may not indicate a deep-seated hatred of gay people, but it shows we need to change that culture as a whole so that someone’s sexuality isn’t regarded as an insult.
VP: Does it get awkward with a guy like Matt Birk, who you can share a locker-room with, but publicly and passionately disagree with on such a polarizing issue?
CK: Not really, because I’ve always treated my teammates with respect and they know that our first priority at the practice facility is to win football games. I’m never going to push my views on someone in the locker room – if they want to talk about something I’m more than happy to have the conversation, but I respect their privacy the same way I would expect them to respect mine. In the same vein though, what I do away from the football field is my life to live.
VP: YouCanPlay has done some ground breaking work to push the issue of gay acceptance in the sports world forward, but there is still a way to go for them and other like-minded organizations. Have you seen an improvement in both LGBT friendliness and inclusion from teams and the league as a whole in your time in the NFL?
CK: I have seen an improvement, and a lot of it is due to how society as a whole is changing. Football players don’t grow up in a vacuum – they grow up with the same societal mores as everyone else, and when those societal mores start changing to be more progressive and inclusive, the people raised in that society change as well. That’s why it’s so important for us to be good role models, because just as we are influenced by society, as role models, we influence society in return.
VP: A large segment of any given locker-room is deeply religious. Do you feel the LGBT inclusive message automatically gets tuned out by the devout, or do some, as you say in the book, find a way to remedy that with various creeds messages of compassion and tolerance?
CK: Like I said earlier, I think most guys are just fine with the “live and let live” idea. They may not personally understand same-sex rights, but they’re starting to understand that if they’re free to live their lives, others have to be free to live how they want to live as well.
VP: So, dearest punter. Your interview is with a parkie, so you are getting a green question. You referenced conservation throughout the book. I feel since the Clean Air and Water acts of the 1970s, the environmentalist movement has been demonized and rendered useless (partially through it’s own hubris). What tangible change should environmentalists demand not tomorrow, but now? Is there a realistic way to save the modern environmentalist movement, or has it been too stigmatized with a label of being all about ‘NO!’ to recover?
CK: A big theme in BUS is that fanaticism to any extreme is dangerous. Just like corporate robber barons need to realize that plundering all the world’s resources is ultimately self-defeating, environmentalists need to realize that decrying all forms of progress is just as self-defeating in the opposite direction. What we need to be doing is working together towards sustainable solutions (things like wind and geo-thermal power, space based solar and resource extraction, renewable biofuel), but that in order to get there we’re going to have to use some non-renewable resources along the way.
The problem right now is that no one is taking the long-term view. Business wants to grow grow grow so they can meet their quarterly profit reports, and that’s using up our non-renewable resources at a very alarming rate (as well as using them for consumption instead of toward creating renewable sources of energy) – long-term that leads to everything collapsing. Environmentalists want to shut a lot of stuff down without understanding that developing nations see what we have and want it to, and the only way they can get there currently is by exploiting the resources they have in a destructive potential.
What we need to be doing is working together to create solutions that benefit all of us over the long-term, and that means short-term sacrifices. Businesses need to understand that they can’t exponentially grow forever (there’s only one thing that does that and it’s called cancer). Environmentalists need to understand that without business we don’t have an interconnected society, and that plunges us back into the Dark Ages and global wars. As a species, if we don’t start understanding how to look long-term, we’re not going to survive on geological time scales.
For the ‘tl;dr’ crowd – Environmentalists and business concerns need to be working together to transition past non-renewable resources so that we can help bring everyone up to a better standard of living, which means sacrifices on both sides. If we don’t, we don’t make it.
VP: You’re adamant about your feelings throughout this book that a drone strike on a USA Citizen on US soil is a very real fear of yours. Do you think the government could be that foolhardy? Secondly, regarding intervention in crisis such as Syria… I’m a liberal, but not a complete dove. I think we need to intervene in certain humanitarian situations, I’m just not sure this is that kind of situation that warrants boots on the ground. Are you isolationist or is your view on the U.S. and it’s role in geo-political affairs more nuanced?
CK: Our current government? No. I don’t think they would use a drone strike on our own soil unless we were being actively invaded. However, the theme of BUS (again) is the long-term. A government 20 years from now? Quite probably yes, especially if we continue a never-ending “war” on terror (how exactly do you win that war anyway, kill everyone in the world?). My concern is that we are building a system that, while we may have the best of intentions now, is set up to actively oppress or kill our own people if it ever gets misused. And I believe there’s also a saying about good intentions.
As far as Syria, I think that if we were seriously concerned about Syria from a humanitarian perspective we would have intervened a year ago when it became clear that Assad was massacring his own people. This current push reeks of political intrigue, and political intrigue historically has never cared about humanitarian principles (things like pipelines from Qatar, though, political intrigue LOVES to care about).
My foreign policy view of the US is that we’re way too involved in other countries’ affairs solely for our own self-interest, and that eventually that’s going to come back and bite us in the ass. I’m not advocating for an isolationist stance, but we have to understand that when we invade countries so companies like Halliburton can get sweet oil-producing contracts, or when we prop up locally hated governments because it means Russia has to pay 10 cents more per barrel of natural gas, that bill WILL come due at some point.
As citizens, we have to understand that the domestic choices we pursue (conspicuous overconsumption, short-term gains over long-term consequences, failing to hold our government accountable when corporate influences lead us to poor decision-making) naturally lead to foreign policy decisions that will hurt us in the long run. We have to educate ourselves on WHY we have to work WITH other nations, instead of demanding that they do what we want and then not understanding why we keep getting embroiled in conflicts. Rome didn’t fall to the barbarians in a day. It took quite a bit of time.
CK: Mainly the big ones – Watchmen, Sandman, Preacher, Transmetropolitan. I like good stories and characters, and those are pretty good ones.
VP: As a piggyback to that, how do you rectify someone’s work who you enjoy if they are against a cause you care about? An example for me is Frank Miller. Tremendous writer, arguably the definitive Batman scribe, but a crazy Islamophobist. Is this something you have trouble with, separating the creator’s wiork from their beliefs?
CK: I don’t buy their work once I find out that information (case in point – I refuse to support anything Orson Scott Card does, as much as I love Ender’s game (which you should check out at your local library since Card won’t get a cent from it)). If you choose to buy something from someone who then uses that money to make the world a worse place, then you’ve played just as much a part as they have. We are all responsible for our own decisions, and you have to ask yourself what’s more important – entertainment? Or humanity? Short term? Or long-term? We all make our own choices, and if we want to survive as a species, we have to learn to be more honest with ourselves about the choices we make.
VP: Have you given any thought to running for office? Would your hypothetical campaign speeches be as vulgar as your average sideline coaches tirade or less?
CK: I have, and it’s something I doubt I’d ever do. Our political system is designed to resist sweeping changes, it’s one of its greatest strengths, but it’s also one of its greatest weaknesses. Right now, you can effect far more political change by contributing to multiple candidates, because we’ve let money take control of our political process, and the only way to fix that is through sweeping change by the very people who have no self-interest in changing the system (why would they, they’re getting paid).
I plan on commenting and calling out the bullshit as I see it, but we are not in a good place right now, and again, historically, it ends in only one way – pitchforks or guillotines. The only question is how bad it gets before the torches come out, and how long until the new rulers make the same mistakes as their predecessors. Until we learn to look long-term, we’ll keep following the same stupid cycle to its same stupid conclusion over and over and over again.
VP: Last question: All life on earth has ended. Was it
B) Global Weather event a la Day After Tomorrow
C) The Matrix we are all in crashing
D) Thermo Nuclear War.
CK: An accident. Someone dropped a vial they shouldn’t have in a lab somewhere, and the person in charge of safety protocols cut a few corners, and then everyone panicked instead of thinking about things rationally and that’s all she wrote. It’s so quintessentially human it can’t happen any other way.
Thanks again for your time, Mr. Kluwe!
By the way, follow this extremely entertaining fellow @ChrisWarcraft.