THIS INTERVIEW is part of an ongoing LARB A.V. series from this year’s LA Times Festival of Books. Go to the LARB A.V. homepage to see more interviews with T.C. Boyle, Daniel Handler, Mona Simpson, Leslie Jamison, Walter Kirn, Adrian Todd Zuniga, Terry McMillan, Michelle Hueneven, Charlie LeDuff, Tahereh Mafi and Chip Kidd.
For eight seasons Chris Kluwe was a punter for the Minnesota Vikings, one of the best in the league, but after becoming an advocate for gay marriage in that state’s marriage equality debate, he had a sudden falling out with his team. Earlier this year he wrote a story for Deadspin in which he states that he doesn’t explicitly know that his political stance was the reason he was fired, but that he’s “pretty confident it was.” And then he goes on to explain everything, naming names, and indicting the NFL (and in some ways all pro sports) for a sort of boorish behavior that’s becoming increasingly hard to ignore.
In our interview, Kluwe, a self-described geek and expert in video games and sci-fi novels, explains that pro sports has really changed in the last 20 years. The amount of money that teams stand to gain has made it very important to muzzle their players and to sell the idea that these players are “people that spend every waking hour thinking about their job,” says Kluwe, “and then they go to sleep and dream about their job.” Kluwe hadn’t planned to stake his career on the marriage equality debate (he says he started up after being asked on Twitter and liking the idea) but he believed strongly in his right to have a life outside of sports.”We’re human beings,” he says. “You’re entirely capable of being very good at something … and having time to live your life and do other things.”
Sports fans have mostly eaten up these myths about their athletes, as it makes their heroes that much greater, but these days it seems the rubber is meeting the road. The NFL hasn’t only lagged behind on social issues — only two months ago the league made history when the league drafted its first openly gay player — but it has also become a target of huge criticism regarding player health. Let’s not forget the growing controversy surrounding the NCAA football program, where players have finally begun to take a stand against a multi-billion dollar industry that they feel is built on mistreating amateur athletes. It’s shaping up to be a major issue of our time, and athletes like Kluwe, who when shedding their helmets prove to have more than one side to them, seem to be pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable. More athletes than ever are taking to Twitter to express themselves in ways that they can’t on the field, and Kluwe is optimistic that future generations will not feel as trapped as he did.
Chris Kluwe talks with LARB A.V.’s Jerry Gorin about his battle with the NFL’s intolerance, the fallacy of the single-minded athlete, and his favorite books of all time. Filmed at the 2014 LA Times Festival of Books.