NFL punters don't typically attract a lot of attention. But Chris Kluwe isn't your boilerplate pigskin booter.
The Vikings' long-legged specialist is a nerd-culture hero, equally respected in "World of Warcraft" circles and locker rooms filled with guys who might have pummeled his geeky people in adolescence. Kluwe, who also plays bass in the local rock band Tripping Icarus and appears regularly on the 93X Half-Assed Morning Show, bolstered his local celebrity status when he took his opinionated antics to Twitter. Now an All-Pro tweeter, the 30-year-old Kluwe isn't afraid to make feather-ruffling quips regarding both on- and off-field issues.
Recently, the outspoken kicker has garnered national media attention by very publicly opposing Minnesota's proposed constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage. After Maryland legislator Emmett C. Burns, Jr., called on the Baltimore Ravens to silence linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, who has openly supported an amendment that would legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland, Kluwe took to his fellow footballer's defense. In a colorful letter published by the Huffington Post, Kluwe assured Burns that allowing gay marriage would not turn him into a "lustful cockmonster," a term which now lives in infamy.
Kluwe has since been featured in anti-amendment commercials, and publicly exchanged words with former Viking Matt Birk. His band is slated to play night two of Minnesotans for Equality's "MN Musicians Vote No!" benefit concert this Saturday night at the Triple Rock. Kluwe even challenged local amendment supporters to a debate at Brave New Workshop last Friday -- but since no one took him up the offer, the punter appeared anyway, making his arguments to an empty chair, Clint Eastwood-style.
Last week we stopped by the Savage home of the controversial kicker -- whom the New York Times recently labeled "the most interesting man in the NFL" -- to talk about gaming, his shirtless photos in a GLBT mag and of course, lustful cockmonsters.
Q: You're renowned in two wildly different arenas: gaming and football. How did this happen?
A: I've always been a gamer. My parents got me a Nintendo Entertainment System when I was 5 or 6 and I was instantly hooked. My parents were also insistent that I play sports, because they didn't want me sitting around the house all day. Originally I played soccer and baseball growing up and then played football in high school because I needed a fall sport. I figured I could kick the ball pretty far in soccer so I tried out as a kicker and punter in football. I went to a couple kicking camps and the instructor said if you work hard at this you can most likely get a college scholarship and you probably have a chance to play in the NFL. I was like, "Well that sounds like the greatest job ever. I think I will practice."
Q: Which gives you the bigger rush: pinning an opponent inside the 5-yard line or racking up dragon kill points in "World of Warcraft?"
A: [laughs] It depends. It's always fun to play football in front of a crowd and to perform well. But it's also fun to be the server first downing Illidan or conquering a boss or a particularly tricky challenge.
Q: How do those compare to a roaring Tripping Icarus crowd?
A: A roaring Tripping Icarus crowd is also a lot of fun. It's a completely different kind of rush than being on a football field. On the field, fans are 60-70 yards away from you, but when you're on stage in front of a group of people they're right there and when fans start getting into your music it's a really cool thing to see because you feed off that energy, that emotion.
Q: Your band is playing a couple upcoming Vote No gigs this month, and you've been very outspoken on this same-sex marriage issue. What made you want to speak up?
A: I was asked to be a part of it by Minnesotans for Equality. I think [the amendment] is basically discrimination in our modern-day culture and I'm not cool with that. I did a couple radio ads for them, I was going to do a dinner fundraiser type thing and then I wrote the letter to Emmett Burns. That kind of upped the ante a little bit [laughs].
Q: I was going to ask you about the letter. Did you ever think you'd be associated with the phrase "lustful cockmonster?"
A: [Laughs.] Only in my wildest dreams. No, it's funny what people will latch onto. If it gets more people talking about marriage equality and basic human rights, I'm more than happy to have my name associated with "lustful cockmonster."
Q: You've always been very outspoken. Have the Vikings or the NFL ever asked you to pump the brakes?
A: The Vikings were initially a little taken aback by the language that I used, which is understandable. The NFL is a very broad, consumer-oriented business and you want to appeal to as many people as possible. When one of your players starts calling someone a lustful cockmonster they're understandably concerned. But as far as me speaking out, I've heard nothing but positive things from the Vikings and the NFL.
Q: Is the NFL ready for an openly gay player?
A: I think it is. It will be tough for whoever comes out, because there will be a lot of media attention and whoever it is will have to play at a high level while enduring that attention. That's probably the hardest part. But after a while it will die down. Hopefully we can show that attitudes are changing. The NFL is not about homophobia and exclusivity anymore. It's about inclusivity and can you play on Sunday.
Q: You recently posed in Out Magazine, a GLBT publication, sans shirt. Any concerns about the reaction considering your notoriously macho profession?
A: I figure if Mark Sanchez can pose in tight white jeans and a fur coat on the steps of the Jets' stadium and Tom Brady can hold a baby goat, there's certainly room for a punter to pose bare-chested. They wanted to do an article, and my wife's one request was that they do a shirtless photo shoot so that she could have some pictures.
Q: Have you ever been concerned about possible fallout when speaking out on this or any other issue?
A: Not really. I take a stand on positions that I feel are the right positions to take. There are certain points in your life when you have to say "This is where I make my stand. Come what may, I think this is important enough to talk about."
Q: What was your relationship like with Matt Birk when he was with the Vikings?
A: We actually hung out quite a bit. We'd do the crossword puzzle together at lunch. He's a smart guy, we'd have great conversations. I respect what Matt has done both in the community and in the NFL with concussion awareness. I mean, he was [named] the NFL Man of the Year.
Q: The exchange between you and Matt was relatively civil, but this is a vitriolic issue. Have you gotten some negative feedback stuff as well?
A: I've gotten some hate mail that's been pretty funny. Someone sent me a couple pamphlets that are really poorly illustrated and lacking a lot of logical backing.
Q: Dare I ask?
A: One shows a guy protesting at a gay-rights march and he gets savagely beaten by all the gays and the police for daring to voice his opinion that gays are not normal human beings. They're really bad. I got another one from someone who went from "How dare you talk to old people like that?" to [calling me] a racist. It was a four-page, singled-spaced letter. It was impressive.
Q: Amendment supporters make the case that heterosexual households are better for kids. Are there any advantages to growing up in a heterosexual home?
A: Not really. If the opposition was really concerned about children, they'd be passing a constitutional amendment banning divorce, because that affects 50 percent of all marriages. If you look at the numbers I think there are 600,000 households total in the United States that are gay households, partners living together, and it works out to something like 3 percent of marriages. You're telling me you're more worried about 3 percent of marriages than 50 percent of the marriages that end in divorce? Studies have shown that children growing up in a same-sex-parent household are just as likely to succeed as children growing up in a heterosexual households, because what matters is that you provide a stable, nurturing environment for your children. I think that really strikes the heart of the matter. Right now gay couples are not allowed to claim around 1,100 benefits under federal law. If you're really about giving children the best chance you'd want children to be in a family that can benefit under those laws.
Q: Your children are still pretty young (2 and 4), but do they know what gay is?
A: One of my wife's brothers is gay. It's actually a funny story. Our niece, who is 6 or 7, she came up and asked, "Why does uncle live with another uncle?" My wife said, "Well, because they love each other." She was like, "OK," and ran off and started playing. Kids learn what we teach them. If we teach them hate, they're going to learn hate. If we teach them tolerance and acceptance, they're going to learn tolerance and acceptance.
Q: Have you had the conversation with your own kids?
A: Not yet. I don't think they've really caught on to it yet. I'm sure they will in a couple years and I'll tell them the same thing that we told our neice: Two people love each other for who they are. It doesn't matter what fleshy bits you have hanging off your body. Obviously having good-looking fleshy bits can help [laughs].