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.