Chris Kluwe, The Vikings, And Sports Privilege

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Utah has gay marriage. Say no more. It’s officially over at the highest levels, folks. You can’t spend decades legislating and ordering equality from the chambers of congress, statehouses, and the benches of the high courts before, eventually, it becomes part of our culture to assume that the state and society supports equality even if an obnoxiously large minority of citizens does not. Struggle is followed by reluctant acceptance and regulation which is followed by shifting norms. What happens then is interesting: You have to shut up. STFU in fact. If you are really against equal rights you need to do so in your head and maybe in the privacy of your own home or some crappy bar you hang out in, but otherwise keep it to yourself and stop infecting the next generation. Then, eventually, inequalities can be addressed without as much public fighting. We are moving as a society into that STFU phase.

Except in two areas: Gayness and football.

First, the gayness. It is not entirely clear to me why gayosity and all things related is so far down on the list of things to stop officially hating in American society. Yes, yes, there are post-hoc explanations aplenty but I’m not sure if anything really holds up. The thing is, that which is being “granted” to gays today, over the last year and a half and presumably over the next year or so, should have been granted to everyone ever a long time ago, and was in fact officially, legally, granted to almost everyone in the spirit of law and society if not everywhere always on the ground. Forty and nine years have passed from the passage of the Civil Rights Act to the year in which the tide turned and state after state started abrogating absurd anti-gay laws or enacting same sex marriage fairness. I quickly add that a turned tied does not equal an empty harbor; it is just the point at which things begin to flow mostly in a direction opposite, more or less, they were flowing before.

For those of you who don’t know, Minnesota experienced a major fight last year over same sex marriage and I find this deeply embarrassing as a resident here. If there was a state that could be pointed to as the state that gave our country the Civil Rights Act, it is Minnesota. It was the mayor of Minneapolis later elected as a federal representative and eventually Vice President who made that act happen. We are the Civil Rights State, dammit. And we almost passed a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage! That election day this amendment, along with another bone-headed constitutional amendment that would have favored Republicans in subsequent elections statewide, as well as the Republican control of the state legislature, were swept away like the stinking offal that it was. But the issue should have never come up. General equality should have been something we had legally in this state decades ago. Making inequality part of our constitution would have been a heinous act by people I can only describe as social criminals. Kidnappers of rights, robbers of freedom, aggravated assaulters of the already repressed, punchers down. They even tried to argue that they were good people doing things that other people simply disagreed with. I think not.

But then there is football. When I moved to Minnesota, the football stadium was named the Hubert H. Humphrey Metro-dome, but most people called it the Metrodome, and only rarely the Humphrey Dome, as though they were embarrassed about Humphrey, the afore mentioned champion of civil rights. When I asked various long-time or born and bred Minnesotans about this, they denied that there was anything going on here. They just call it the “Dome” or the “Metrodome” because that’s easier to say. No anti-Humphrey stuff going on here. No implicit indirect passive aggressive resistance to civil rights going on here. Just easier to say. Dome. Metrodome. Nothing else.

Then, they added another name to the Metrodome. They couldn’t get rid of the Humphrey name but the added “Mall of America” to the name by calling the turf on which the play happened “Mall of America Field” so now the big ugly out of date sports stadium has a name that sounds like the full name of one of those British Counts or something: “The Hubert. H. Humphrey Metrodome, Mall of America Field, Also Known as the Thunderdome the Homerdome and The Dome. At your service.”

And I swear to you that as soon as the thing was called “Mall of America Field” the press stopped calling it conveniently “The Metrodome” (leaving off any mention of Humphrey) and started calling it the Mall of America Field. All the time.

Now, I’m sure that there is an excuse for this. The deal was made, the Mall of America invested in naming rights and thereafter the Free Press was required to use that name because they are required to attend to corporate interests. Nothing anti-civil rights, anti-DFL, anti-Humphrey going on here. Just the press being bought off by a major corporation. Go on home, folks, nothing to see here. Business as usual.

And all that is the subtle, nuanced, unspoken context in which the Vikings fired Chris Kluwe. Kluwe, one of the world’s greatest punters ever and in his prime, was one of those players who allowed people like me, who are marginally interested in football but unhappy about certain aspects of the game, to see hope. Kluwe tweeted, and his tweets were often … well, smart, and even progressive. He was also repressed. He once tweeted about how dangerous it might be to play on a solid-frozen open field not prepped for winter play (after the HHH Metrodome collapsed under snow one day). He was told to shut up. He tweeted that too. Eventually he tweeted about the gay marriage amendment, and in fact joined the political movement to defeat the amendment. In short, Kluwe did things that football players were not supposed to do: Think, speak, opinionate, not be a right wing bible-thumping shit.

Chris Kluwe was fired by the vikings because of his gay rights activism. He posted about it in a piece called “I Was An NFL Player Until I Was Fired By Two Cowards And A Bigot“:

In May 2013, the Vikings released me from the team. At the time, quite a few people asked me if I thought it was because of my recent activism for same-sex marriage rights, and I was very careful in how I answered the question. My answer, verbatim, was always, “I honestly don’t know, because I’m not in those meetings with the coaches and administrative people.”

This is a true answer. I honestly don’t know if my activism was the reason I got fired.

However, I’m pretty confident it was.

Go read the entire piece. It is rather amazing. This is not a simple situation. The owner of the team seems to have been supportive of Kluwe’s activism. The coach seems to have been swayed to ask Kluwe to STFU, but reluctantly (he is, after all, one of the few African American coaches in the NFL and does not seem like a “pull the ladder up” kind of guy). The real bad guy in this scenario may be Mike Preifer, the special teams coach and thus punter Kluwe’s immediate boss. Preifer is painted by Kluwe as a real dick, telling the player that he’ll burn in hell with the gays and once stating “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.” Kluwe notes:

It’s my belief, based on everything that happened over the course of 2012, that I was fired by Mike Priefer, a bigot who didn’t agree with the cause I was working for, and two cowards, Leslie Frazier and Rick Spielman, both of whom knew I was a good punter and would remain a good punter for the foreseeable future, as my numbers over my eight-year career had shown, but who lacked the fortitude to disagree with Mike Priefer on a touchy subject matter.

Also, the Vikings suck. A year or so ago one might have hope that they’d move out of state and we could be rid of them but a new stadium is being built as we speak and they are here to stay. Therefore, they have to change. Hopefully the firing of Chris Kluwe will serve a positive purpose as a turning point. Next, we need to see the firing of Mike Priefer. A person in any management position in any profession in the United States who told his employees the things he said to the Vikings players would be fired. Except in sports, especially football. Sports teams, players, coaches, and owners seem to live in a world where they can be freely racist, anti-gay, and religious bigots. That really has to end.

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6 thoughts on “Chris Kluwe, The Vikings, And Sports Privilege

  1. It is not entirely clear to me why gayosity and all things related is so far down on the list of things to stop officially hating in American society.

    I know what you mean. Religion is usually the justification, but I think it’s seldom the reason. So what is? Well, actually, I think I get that, too — the reason is macho culture (or patriarchy, if you prefer). A homophobe thinks, on some level: Women are inferior -> men acting “like women” are inferior -> gay men threaten maleness -> they must die.

    But what I don’t get is why these notions of male superiority and sharply-defined gender roles are so important to so many people. Obviously they run deep, and they’ve been around a long time. But… why? What’s the attraction? To me, it seems clear that a culture without these features would be more pleasant to live in, for both men and women.

    I could blame the mindless ancestor-worship that underlies so much of conservative “thought” for perpetuating it, but that just moves the question to “So why did our ancestors start this stupid shit?”.

  2. Not sure I buy the macho culture notion. It may be a part, but so is people just being people and believing that their own definition of ‘icky’ constitutes some kind of moral definition of acceptability. Lack of tolerance, empathy and understanding of others is also fostered by an adversarial culture that categorizes things into simple good/bad dichotomies (I’m less certain about this in the context of the American culture, than I am of my first statement).

    “A homophobe thinks, on some level: Women are inferior -> men acting “like women” are inferior -> gay men threaten maleness -> they must die.”

    This may be the case for some, but I would not make it a universal statement.

  3. A few years ago, a peer-reviewed paper reported that males who express strong homophobic opinions also exhibit significantly higher responses on the penile plethysmograph when shown (non-pornographic) gay-themed photos, as compared to men who do not express strong homophobic opinions.

    In other words, homophobes have subconscious or barely-conscious arousal responses to same-sex imagery. From this one can infer that they are at war against themselves, and they express outspoken bigotry as a defense mechanism.

    Former Vikings player Kluwe on the other hand, appears to be an example of someone who has no such internal conflicts (his article suggests he has a wife and children), and by inference, is completely secure in his own (heterosexual) orientation. Thus he can and did take up the fight for equality as a matter of principle with no personal benefit to be had, in a similar manner as many white folks supported the black civil rights movement.

    It would be interesting to put coach Mike Priefer on a penile plethysmograph and show him some pictures of guys hugging and kissing. “Boing!” We have a winner!;-)

  4. I like NFL football but I’m growing ever more annoyed at the displays of religiosity on the field (guy scores a TD and looks up to the sky and holds fingers up to the sky) so typical of the God is on my side mentality that is the source of much woe in this world. So I don’t doubt this gets carried over in a big way into the dressing room and the clubhouse. Having the whole team recite the Lord’s Prayer before going on to the field seems to be de rigueur in the NFL – you can imagine the pressure on an atheist to conform to this – do or be branded as not a team player – your NFL career is now over.

    I have a lot of respect for Chris Kluwe both as an awesome athlete and for his principled stance on a basic human right. I hope his new stint with the Raiders will make the Vikings really regret their action.

  5. Nemo: But what I don’t get is why these notions of male superiority and sharply-defined gender roles are so important to so many people. Obviously they run deep, and they’ve been around a long time. But… why? What’s the attraction?

    To raise armies and be effective at fighting wars. In order to have a good army (or a sports team), one must systematically wipe out any sympathy for others.
    Men are therefore encouraged to bond only to men and to regard women as inferior. He must hate what his comrades hate and love what they love.
    This is responsible, in a large part, for the reason that men in military service, on sports teams, or in occupations like construction work and oil tend to have a problem with domestic abuse and be homophobic.
    They can’t sympathize anymore and are incapable of forming any but the shallowest emotional bond- and they can only bond with other men.

  6. I’ll differ with #5 as follows:

    One of the continuing and pernicious atavisms present in humans is _genetic competition_, despite the fact that we share 99% of our genome with chimpanzees & bonobos. Genetic competition drives everything from fights over mates to world wars, and all of the media related to these, notably in cinema and in popular song lyrics.

    One of the central claims of masculinity is sexual potency and the ability to produce offspring. This is true even among rationalists and translates to a testable hypothesis: Survey a statistically relevant sample of people in all professions and occupations, and you will find that working scientists who are male and infertile are probably every bit as private & protective about their infertility as males in other careers.

    Conventionally, gay males don’t reproduce, though with modern medical and cultural developments this is changing (e.g. gay couple and lesbian couple make cooperative arrangements and engage a doctor to assist).

    Thus for many males, being thought to be gay carries the implication that they are non-reproductive: “losers” in the genetic competition.

    Further, this should predictably translate to a greater degree of fear among those males who are comparatively powerless in society, such as unskilled or less-skilled workers. This, because they are already at higher risk of predation from those “above them” in the socioeconomic food-chain, and any “admission” of being “less potent” is felt to further increase their predation risk. Again, testable hypotheses via careful survey research.

    Ultimately humans have to get over the genetic competition instincts, just as they have to get over the desire to dominate each other. These aspects of cultural evolution are essential if we are to take the steps that lead to becoming an interstellar species, and thereby avoid becoming a collective cosmic Darwinian failure when the Sun’s luminosity increases in a half billion years and sterilizes the Earth. Our cosmic success as a species, and the success of the entire lineage of Earth-originated life, depends on recognizing that the only relevant distinction is that all of us, from microbes to mammals, share a common origin and common telos.

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