Like a beautiful unique sparklepony that was just too beautiful for this world, Chris Kluwe is gone. Well, gone as the punter for the Vikings anyway.
Kluwe’s eight-year tenure with the team ended with his release from the team on Monday. The cut sparked controversy over whether the move was motivated by Kluwe’s recent outspokenness for gay rights. The 31-year-old booter gained national celebrity in 2012 by wittily — and vulgarly — denouncing anti-gay-marriage Maryland legislator Emmett Burns. The fallout led to an appearance on “The Colbert Report,” and boots-on-the-ground campaigning against last fall’s proposed same-sex marriage ban in Minnesota.
On one hand, there’s the theory that Kluwe’s gay-rights activism unfairly led to his dismissal by the Vikes. When asked about the punter’s extracurriculars last season, special teams coach Mike Priefer said, “It’s getting old.” The Vikings didn’t seem to care when Kluwe’s distractions included “World of Warcraft” and playing in rock band Tripping Icarus.
On the other hand, the move made football sense. Last month the Vikings chose top-rated punter Jeff Locke in the fifth round of the NFL Draft; Locke will make roughly a third as much as Kluwe, who was slotted to earn $1.45 million next season. And over the past four seasons, his net punting averages ranked thusly among 32 teams: 17th, 22nd, 10th and 18th.
Gov. Mark Dayton voiced his opinion Wednesday at the Minnesota State Capitol.
“I don’t feel good about it,” Dayton said. “I mean I’m not in position to evaluate the role and their punting abilities. But it seems to me the general manager said right after the draft that they were going to have competition. Well, then he brings the one guy [Locke] in, he kicks for a weekend and that’s the competition? I mean, I just think sports officials ought to be honest about what the heck is going on. Same way I think public officials should be honest about what’s going on. So that bothers me probably as much if not more than the actual decision.”
No matter the motive behind his release, Kluwe seemed unfazed.
“I think the sacrifice would be worth it,” he told the Star Tribune. “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 and his band took the stage at Cause Spirits & Soundbar in Uptown on Tuesday night for a mini farewell set. The hard-rock jock never really addressed the crowd, though Tripping Icarus singer/guitarist Jesse Damien Revel offered a simple “Sorry you got cut, Chris,” which drew a smirk from the former Viking.
After loading out, the ever-accessible Kluwe greeted fans, including one woman who simply thanked him for being “human,” posing for pictures and signing autographs. The sandal-sporting Kluwe told Vita.mn he’s heading to California on Thursday to see his family, a trip he’d planned prior to being released. “I’m really going to miss being a part of Minnesota,” Kluwe said. “The people have been great to me [and] I’ve made a lot of friends.”
If this was the popular punter’s Minnesota swan song, it was far quieter than much of his tenure.