The foot of the Minnesota Vikings’ punter will no longer be in his mouth.
There is a truism in all professional life that your cost, real or perceived, cannot outweigh your value. Once that threshold is crossed, there is often little incentive for an employer to maintain such an employee.
Of course, that truism seems to take an extraordinary beating when it comes to being applied in the world of professional sports. Athletes are excused all manner of crimes and statements while staying employed. Kobe Bryant hardly suffered despite allegations of rape. Michael Vick emerged from jail for the cruel practice of dog fighting and resumed his NFL career. Mike Tyson’s been in and out of jail three times. If he goes back a forth time, apparently it’s free.
In that light, the Minnesota Vikings’ expected release of outspoken punter/gay-marriage advocate/musician/video-game enthusiast/Deadspin contributor/gameboard store owner/all-around stunted adolescent Chris Kluwe hardly seems fair. Kluwe has maintained a decent-to-high punting yards average since joining the NFL (notwithstanding his drop to 22nd in the NFL in 2012). And in a league that doesn’t even have a punter in their Hall of Fame (another source of Kluwe-influenced controversy), Kluwe may be the most relatively famous punter in history.
The problem? None of that notoriety comes from his actions on the field. The Star Tribune’s Chip Scoggins danced around the elephant in the stadium when he wrote Kluwe’s Vikings career post-mortem in advance:
Kluwe’s departure will make the Vikings locker room a lot more dull because he is incredibly intelligent, articulate and passionate about societal issues. He’s a fascinating individual in a sport that breeds conformity. The NFL has become so big and so powerful that players often cling to political correctness for fear that a ripple might swell into a tidal wave. Kluwe is that surfer dude on top of the wave, hanging 10 on any issue that stirs his emotion.
“No single thing that I do defines me as a person,” he said. “Just because I play football, that doesn’t define me as a person.”
The message is unmistakable – Chris Kluwe’s gay marriage advocacy cost him his job. And Scoggins et al are correct…sort of.
Kluwe’s value to the Minnesota Vikings was as a $1.4 million a year player at a reasonably expendable position. Simply put – you don’t get to be a distraction if you’re easily replaceable. And by every definition, Chris Kluwe is a distraction. Kluwe has run his mouth on issues beyond gay marriage. He’s been fined for “campaigning” for Ray Guy to get into the Hall of Fame. He’s appeared on the website Deadspin several times over the 2011 NFL Lockout where he attacked numerous players over their views.
Worse, Kluwe’s tactics are the epitome of his generation – foul-mouthed personal attacks against anyone who disagrees. Pro-lockout players are “douchebags” who stand for “pretty much the definition of greed.” His opponents are “a**hole f**kwits”, which also suggests he’s a plagiarist since I’m sure he stole that from Oscar Wilde.
In truth, the media needs Chris Kluwe’s release to be about his vocal and abusive activism. Because admitting to solidarity with Kluwe’s political views, and his ability to deliver good copy to sportswriters and sports radio networks, is harder than portraying the SoCal punter as a victim of a 1st Amendment NFL crackdown. Does anyone seriously believe that if Kluwe had come out passionately against gay marriage (ala Matt Birk), and saw his production dive, that those arguing against Kluwe’s release today would be defending his penchant to “hanging 10 on any issue that stirs his emotion”?
Kluwe mocked even his own Special Teams coach for suggesting the punter needed to focus on his job with the hashtag “so focused.” Here’s hoping that Chris Kluwe finds the time to focus on realizing that being a public relations bully to those who don’t share his worldview isn’t the best way to advance what’s left of his career.