Monday, May 6, 2013

Quiet athletes rarely change the world...

To the surprise of no one, Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe—an outspoken advocate for marriage equality—was cut by his team earlier today after eight and a half seasons. This was especially unsurprising to Kluwe himself, who predicted this after the Vikings drafted UCLA punter Jeff Locke in the fifth round of the NFL draft last week.

The fact is Kluwe is 31 years old, and has played fairly inconsistently of late, but there's little doubt that his vocal activism helped make it a little easier for the team to decide it was time to part ways with him, especially in a state that has struggled with a decision regarding marriage equality. (The state legislature is still debating the issue after voters rejected a bill last November that would have amended the state's constitution to dictate that marriage should be between one man and one woman.)

Chip Scoggins, a sports reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, said: "Regardless of whether they admit it, the Vikings are jettisoning Kluwe partly because they grew tired of his outspokenness. It’s naive to think the move is based solely on his age (31), salary ($1.45 million) or how he performed last season (inconsistently). Kluwe has become the most visible punter in NFL history because of his social activism. The Vikings deny that Kluwe’s public stance on issues factored into their decision — not that they would ever admit it — but they likely prefer someone who embraces the anonymous life of an NFL punter.

"Kluwe has developed a wide audience and become a polarizing figure as a staunch advocate for same-sex marriage. Whether it’s gay rights, player safety or Ray Guy’s omission from the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Kluwe isn’t afraid to voice his opinion. And he refuses to apologize for that, even if it contributes to his exit.

"'This is me,' he said. 'I pay attention to what goes on in the world, and I like to speak up when I see something.'

"Kluwe’s expected release could result in some backlash by fans who applaud his support of same-sex marriage. A handful of teams need punters, so he could find a job elsewhere. Kluwe also understands that teams might pass on him because they view him as a distraction. He believes he has four or five good seasons left as a punter, but he refuses to muffle his activism just to get a job.

"'I think the sacrifice would be worth it,' he said. 'Now, I would hope that I would get the chance to play football again, because I think I can still play. But if it ends up being something that costs me that position, I think making people aware of an issue that is causing children to commit suicide is more important than kicking a leather ball.'"

Kluwe's release follows that of Baltimore Ravens linebacker and LGBT ally Brendon Ayanbadejo, who was released by his team last month. Again, Ayanbadejo is 36 years old, so his release cannot be attributed to his activism alone. (In fact, Ayanbadejo initially squelched stories that blamed his advocacy for marriage equality for his release, although he has since said it certainly could have played a role in the final decision.) And, as I reported last month, former New Orleans Saints linebacker Scott Fujita—another advocate for marriage equality—retired from the game at age 33.

Hats off to Chris Kluwe, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Scott Fujita, and all those unwilling to let equality be trodden upon simply for the sake of keeping their jobs. We are fortunate to have advocates like these, and so many others, in our corner, and I hope their courage won't be in vain for long.

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