This story is over 5 years old

Ex-NFL Player Chris Kluwe Has Become an Unlikely Fighter for Gender Equality

As a football player, Chris Kluwe was a punter, but in his post-NFL life, he's been a beast, defending everyone from LGBT people to the victims of gamergate.

by John Norris
Nov 30 2014, 6:40pm

Photo via ​Wikimedia Com​mons

As a football player, Chris Kluwe was a punter, not what you would call the NFL's most contact-prone position. But in his post-NFL life, he has been a beast, continuing his work as an activist for everyone from LGBT people to the victims of gamergate. 

Kluwe has always shot from the hip. As a punter for the Minnesota Vikings, ​he called out star players Peyton Manning and Drew Brees for their "greed" during the 2011 NFL lockout. The next year, he became a hero to LGBT America for his outspoken support for same-sex marriage that included a legendary open letter to a Maryland state legislator, assuring the official that allowing gays and lesbians the right to marry would not ​"magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster." It's the sort of advocacy that gets you canned by a controversy-averse NFL franchise, or so Kluwe contended in ​a Deadspin post from early this year titled "I Was An NFL Player Until I Was Fired By Two Cowards and a Bigot." In the article, he alleged, among other things, that Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer once joked about how you should "nuke" gay people.  

Since then, Kluwe, a longtime gamer, has stepped into the hornet's nest of gamergate, defending women who've been subjected to ugly threats during the ongoing war. He recently took to ​the Cauldron to excoriate the "patently obvious white privilege and poorly disguised misogyny" of gamergaters, joking that they perceive themselves as "little Anne Franks, hiding in their basements from the PC Nazis and Social Justice Warrior brigades." 

Still, Kluwe's own politically incorrect remarks have sparked their own slew of controversy. During ​his protracted departure from the Vikings this summer, the team's investigation summary revealed how Kluwe once made a locker room joke making light of the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State. If that revelation was meant to undercut Kluwe or silence his outspokenness, it hasn't.

As the gamergate saga continued to unfold, I spoke to Kluwe about gamergaters, his decision to speak out against NFL figures, and the controversy surrounding him. 

VICE: Are you surprised that gamergate is still happening?
Chris Kluwe: Sadly, I'm not really that surprised, because I've been a gamer for a long time, and I've seen the message board flame wars that have erupted from year to year—and this is basically an extended version of a message board flame war. You have one group of people who think that they get to do whatever they want, simply because they want to do it, and then you have everyone else saying, "No, you can't do that, because it's harmful to people." And that's where the friction comes in.

In your Cauldron piece, you described gamergaters as mostly "angsty teenage Caucasian men." They claim they're not misogynists—they say they're only interested in ethical gaming journalism and there are plenty of women on their side. Are there actually women supporting them?
I think there are women and people of color on the gamergate side, but I don't think it's nearly as many as gamergate thinks there is, and I think that in the end it doesn't really matter what your idea is, if [you're] going about it the wrong way.

Do you think this is just one turf battle in a larger war over real gender equality?
Basically for the entirety of human history, it's been a patriarchal society. It's been men who've have had the power. [With the rise of the internet], we're seeing that a lot more people are understanding that there are these power structures still in place that primarily benefit men, generally white men. And they're saying, "No, this isn't right. If we want to live in a free and open society, then everyone has to have the same chance." 

I think that a lot of the backlash that you're seeing to that is from men's rights activists—the "manosphere" is I guess their online term for it. It's basically a bunch of people who are afraid that if they let the girls into the clubhouse then somehow there's going to be less for them. It's almost like it's this gut reaction of "No, we can't have women involved, because what happens if a woman takes a job that was meant for me, because I'm a man?" And when you step back and look at it, that means that you're OK with a woman not having a job simply because she's a woman, and that's not right.

Obviously domestic violence has been going on for a long time before it was captured on an elevator security camera, and the Ray Rice story coming out won't end it forever, but do you think the video footage has had an important effect on the league?
Obviously it's something important that needed to happen—not Janay Rice getting hit because that is horrible. Humans beings are very visually learning. We tend to pick things up much faster if we see it—if we see an example—so I think for a lot of people, when they heard that Ray Rice hit his wife, in the abstract they were like, "Oh yeah, that's bad but how bad could it be?" But then when the video came out, and people actually saw it, now they have a concrete example in their minds.

On Twitter, ​you have urged Redskins owner Dan Snyder to change the team's name. ​Snyder maintains there are many Native Americans who love his team. Is that a bit like gamergaters saying women support them?
For a long time, guys played video games that girls weren't generally interested in, and it wasn't generally a very safe place for women. But then people realized, "Hey, that's not right, it should change." And same thing with Dan Snyder. It's yeah, for a long time, this is what we've called the team and people were OK with it. Yeah, there were some people that were not OK with it, but they were just a small voice. And now more people are realizing that this is not OK, and therefore it needs to change. It doesn't matter how long something has been going on if it is ethically corrupt, or if it is not conducive to good human, societal relationships. Time is not a defense.

At the same time, you've been criticized for offending people. Over the summer, a story came out about you wearing underwear that had a hole in it in the Vikings locker room. You pretended you were one of the Penn State sexual abuse victims. What was the deal with that?
Obviously that was in poor taste on my part, but the other thing is, the relationship I had with my strength coach was like Cards Against Humanity with warped senses of humor. We would make fun of each other, we would make jokes at each other, and to me that was one of those instances where it was like, "OK, he's a very staunch Penn State supporter, one of those guys who's like, 'Penn State can do no wrong. What are they doing to Joe Pa?'" And I'm like, that kind of blind fanaticism is never good, no matter who it's directed at. And so yeah, this was a horrible thing that happened, and turning a blind eye to it isn't going to help anyone.

A lot of people hate when celebrities use their platform to talk about something bigger than themselves. Why do you think there are some people who just want entertainers to, as someone famously told the Dixie Chicks, "Shut up and sing?"
I think the underlying problem is the growing corporatization of our society and culture in general. Everyone wants to make the most money possible from the largest audience possible, and that means being bland and inoffensive and never possibly saying something that could upset someone. I think that's both a combination of unfettered capitalism and the rise of the internet. It's much easier to see someone saying something unpopular, which is great from an activist standpoint, but businesses are terrified of that, because it becomes very easy for them to be linked with one of their employees, or someone they are involved with, saying something.

Follow John on ​Twitter.

Gay Rights
Peyton Manning
Vice Blog
Ray Rice
John Norris
Chris Kluwe
gay allies