Saturday, September 8, 2012

What Chris Kluwe Means for Sports

We were treated to something special over the past few days. Chris Kluwe, the punter for the Minnesota Vikings, has been attracting a great deal of attention around the Internet and elsewhere. This isn't the first time he's gained notoriety. He's very active on Twitter with sharp, witty, funny comments about football. He's an avid video gamer, having sunk numerous hours into World of Warcraft and other games. Thus proving that if you're adept at time management, you can be an athlete and a gamer.

Future Olympians? No, I said if you're adept at time management. These three
are not adept at time management. Also, they're cartoon characters.
This most recent bout of awesomeness started when Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo had the audacity to do what Kluwe and scores of Americans do on a regular basis: voice his opinion. He spoke out in favor of a ballot initiative in Maryland that would legalize same-sex marriage. Maryland state legislator Emmett C. Burns Jr. penned a letter to the Ravens requesting that they punish Ayanbadejo for voicing opinions about a political topic.

Pictured: The smallest ball Kluwe has to deal with on a regular
basis. (Photo: Tom Dahlin: Getty Images)
Chris Kluwe wrote this to Burns. And that's when shit got real.

Kluwe's retort is scathing. There is just something utterly delicious about a football player having to give a lesson on the Constitution to an elected public official. It's even better when that black elected public official has to be reminded of the political activism ingrained in our sports history. And he didn't even give any mention to the pioneering women in sports fighting for equality in athletics. So obviously Chris Kluwe is a chauvinist. (He probably thinks all girls are noobs who are bad at video games.)

The whole thing was all kinds of awesome, but I think I appreciated it because I means something else as big as the message it conveyed:

Your profession does not, and should not, prevent a human being from contributing their opinions the debates of their time.

Kluwe's posts really force us to confront something that is true within this country. We claim to like it when our athletes and celebrities voice their support or condemnation for things. In fact we expect it. We want them to be "moral leaders" and "positive role models" for our children. However, when they come out and voice an opinion on something we disagree with, such as gay marriage, then we want them to shut up and not voice their opinion. We justify it by saying, "They're just a celebrity/athlete, and what do they know!?"

Even I am guilty of that at times, but I've come to understand a very important distinction. I don't mind when celebrities share their opinions, so long as they do so in a way that is intelligent, well argued and rational. Example: During the DNC, Lindsay Lohan said on Twitter to the Obama feed that, "We also need to cut them (taxes) for those that are listed on Forbes as 'millionaires' if they are not, you must consider that as well." Which is just stupid. She seems to be indicating that there are hundred thousand-aires who are wrongly characterized as millionaires. She also seems to believe that the U.S. Federal Government chooses which income tax bracket you belong in based on Forbes Magazine and not on the tax documents that Lindsay Lohan has apparently never seen.

See, it's stupid. It's the difference between intelligent, well-informed commentary and the dense yammering of someone who just wants our attention.

More after the break

What Chris Kluwe means for sports is that fans don't have to rely on regurgitated, sanitized, "approved for media consumption" sound-bytes anymore. This is particularly important, I feel, to our current NHL situation where we may be facing a lockout. During last year's NFL labor disputes, Kluwe pointed out how some fellow players were hurting negotiations with demands that benefited only themselves. If any player in the NHL were making such specific demands, and were hurting the chance for a CBA agreement to be reached and the season be saved from a lockout, I'd want to know about it. Even if that player was a beloved Red Wing. If Pavel Datsyuk were doing it, I'd want someone to take to Twitter and call him a douchebag, provided their accusations are true. I want the players to take the social media and let the fans know when things aren't right, so that everyone can come together to make it right. So long as their information is true and factual.

And that's the thing about Kluwe's arguments - people can't really refute the claims he's making, only complain about the way in which he makes it or the source its self. When Kluwe called out Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and others, former NFL Tight End Nate Jackson told Kluwe to sit down and shut up. Why? Because Kluwe is a punter and nobody cares what punters think, not because Kluwe was wrong about anything he said. Kluwe responded.
"So, Nate Jackson, while I respect your right to free speech (as apparently you don't respect mine), I also respect my right to tell you to go jam a tackling dummy up your ass sideways for being a snake-tongued, shit-talking Internet tough guy asshole who is so far out of touch with reality that you have no idea just how privileged  we are to play this game for ridiculous amounts of money"
When I shared Kluwe's letter to Emmett Burns Jr. on a message board, another poster said the following after reading it: "He just came off as a huge asshole to me. I find myself trying to find holes in his argument because of how pretentious he comes off as."  I pointed out to the poster that he couldn't find any holes in his argument. The poster responded, "No, I can't, but that doesn't make him not a dick. I hate agreeing with people like that."

Read that again, because I think it really speaks to the heart of what I've been talking about. This person was mad because he had to agree with someone who had made a logically sound and rational argument, because the person making the argument sounded like a "huge asshole" and used naughty language. You know who used to sound like an asshole, swear a lot and make logically sound and rational arguments? George Carlin. 

You know what, Chris Kluwe has made me rethink Tim Thomas. Was it a little weird for Thomas to not go to the White House and to ramble on about why on Facebook after winning the Stanley Cup? Yeah, it was. But it wasn't really any more weird than Allen Iverson. We just thought it was because it was political. We can disagree with it, and I do think he should have gone. But I won't sit here and say he didn't have the right to make his choice, and I do honestly respect that he felt strongly enough about something to protest it. 

So Chris Kluwe, thank you. Thank you for demonstrating that you can be an athlete and not just a knuckle-dragging jock who repeats mindless accolades because he can't parse together an independent thought. Thank you for being an example of how players can communicate effectively and honestly with fans. Thank you for understanding what is meant by freedom of speech and exercising it. Thanks for being awesome.

But would you please stop? Not because you're wrong about anything you've said, but because I want people to read my blog and you're totally stealing my thunder.

Chris Kluwe can be should be followed on Twitter @ChrisWarcraft. I can be followed @RedWings3RDP

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