And a punter shall lead them
With his letter skewering an anti-gay Baltimore politician, Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe defended the right of athletes to take a stand on political issues.
SPEAKING OUT always holds the risk of a backlash--especially for pro athletes and especially when standing up for LGBT equality. The Baltimore Ravens' Brendan Ayanbadejo experienced that reality this week.
Dave Zirin is the coauthor, with John Carlos, of The John Carlos Story, and author of Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love and A People's History of Sports in the United States, as well as two collections of his sports writings, Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports and What's My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States. He is a columnist for TheNation.com; his writings are also featured at his Edge of Sports Web site.
For years, the 36-year-old Ayanbadejo has been outspoken in support of marriage equality and LGBT rights. Now, Ayanbadejo is publicly supporting a November ballot initiative for Maryland to join the states that recognize same-sex marriage.
This was too much for Baltimore County state Delegate Emmett Burns. Burns, a Democrat, sent a formal letter to Ravens team owner Steve Biscotti that said, among other things, "I find it inconceivable that one of your players, Mr. Brendon Ayanbadejo would publicly endorse same-sex marriage, specifically as a Raven Football player...I believe Mr. Ayanbadejo should concentrate on football and steer clear of dividing the fan base."
Then Burns went even farther and requested that Biscotti "take the necessary action, as a National Football League Owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employees and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions. I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing."
Yes, you read that correctly. Burns is calling on Ayanbadejo's boss to coerce him to shut up.
It's worth noting that this last statement just isn't true. Players such as Scott Fujita, NFL Hall of Famer Michael Irvin, the whole San Francisco 49ers team and even Sports Illustrated NFL preview coverboy Rob Gronkowski have all spoken out for LGBT rights.
Ayanbadejo responded to Burns forcefully, defending his own freedom of expression and saying to USA Today, "It's an equality issue. I see the big picture. There was a time when women didn't have rights. Black people didn't have rights. Right now, gay rights is a big issue, and it's been for a long time. We're slowly chopping down the barriers to equality."
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BUT THE greatest response to Burns and perhaps to anything in the history of everything was made by Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe.
Kluwe also happens to believe in LGBT rights as well as the rights of athletes to be able to speak their minds. The punter sat down at his computer and produced the greatest political statement by any athlete ever...or at least since Muhammad Ali told the U.S. government that "the real enemy of my people is here."
Perhaps that's hyperbole. Certainly, it's arguable. But what's undeniable is the greatness of Kluwe's rant. I quote my favorite parts below, but I strongly encourage people to read it in its entirety at Deadspin.com.
Warning that it's brilliantly profane, or profanely brilliant, so you might not want to print it out at work and leave it lying around. Then again, if you work in a place with NFL fans prone to homophobic slurs, you might want to leave it everywhere.
Kluwe begins by calling out Burns for his "vitriolic hatred and bigotry." He then schools Burns on the Constitution, the First Amendment and the history of racism and segregation in the NFL. But the coup de grâce was his defense of LGBT equality. Kluwe writes:
I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won't come into your house and steal your children. They won't magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster. They won't even overthrow the government in an orgy of hedonistic debauchery because all of a sudden they have the same legal rights as the other 90 percent of our population--rights like Social Security benefits, child care tax credits, Family and Medical Leave to take care of loved ones, and COBRA health care for spouses and children.
You know what having these rights will make gays? Full-fledged American citizens just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that entails. Do the civil rights struggles of the past 200 years mean absolutely nothing to you? In closing, I would like to say that I hope this letter, in some small way, causes you to reflect upon the magnitude of the colossal foot in mouth clusterfuck you so brazenly unleashed on a man whose only crime was speaking out for something he believed in. Best of luck in the next election; I'm fairly certain you might need it.
Kluwe then ends by writing, "P.S. I've also been vocal as hell about the issue of gay marriage, so you can take your 'I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing' and shove it in your close-minded, totally lacking in empathy piehole and choke on it. Asshole."
For the first time in football history, a punter is truly leading the way. Thank you, Chris Kluwe, for the greatest political statement made by any athlete in decades. The fact that it happens to be about LGBT rights only shows how far we've traveled, in the streets and in the locker rooms.
First published at TheNation.com.