Chris Kluwe occupies one of the least attention-garnering positions on the football field — how many NFL punters can you name? — but the Minnesota Viking is certainly gregarious off of it.
About a month ago, Kluwe wrote an open letter to Emmett C. Burns, Jr., a Maryland Democratic state delegate, that quickly went viral. Kluwe’s letter harshly (and quite hilariously) rebuked Burns’ recent request that the Baltimore Ravens silence their linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, who has openly supported a Maryland ballot initiative that would legalize same-sex marriage. Burns’ letter to the Ravens’ owner asked that he “inhibit such expressions from your employees and that [Ayanbadejo] be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions.”
Kluwe had a field day with the letter, telling Burns, “Your vitriolic hatred and bigotry make me ashamed and disgusted to think that you are in any way responsible for shaping policy at any level.” Kluwe also criticized Burns for his assertion that politics have “no place in a sport.”
Many professional sports remain institutionally homophobic. This forces a number of homosexual players and others involved with professional sports in myriad ways to remain in the closet. For example, there is not one openly gay player in any of America’s three major sports leagues: the NFL, the NBA and the MLB. Chances are that among the over 3,000 athletes in these three leagues there are quite a few homosexuals.
The former owner of Major League Baseball’s Pittsburgh Pirates, Kevin McClatchy, came out as gay just two weeks ago, years after leaving baseball for good. To give you an idea of the homophobia McClatchy likely faced while involved in baseball, just days before McClatchy came out, the MLB suspended Toronto Blue Jays’ shortstop Yunel Escobar for three games for writing an anti-gay slur on his eye black for all to see.
Significant homophobia in sports exists outside of America, too. Consider German soccer. In early September, Chancellor Angela Merkel moved to support homosexual soccer players in the German Bundesliga after one gave an anonymous interview in which he lamented that he could not possibly come out as gay and continue to enjoy his lifelong dream of playing top-tier professional soccer.
And one more example, just to show how this problem spans the gamut of professional sports: just days ago, Puerto Rican featherweight Orlando Cruz became the first openly gay professional boxer. “I have always been and always will be a proud gay man,” said Cruz. Thankfully, Cruz experienced a wave of support following his announcement.
In the past few years, there has been much progress in legalizing same-sex marriage. Besides the president’s support of same-sex marriage, six states have fully legalized same-sex marriage, with three more primed to do so, pending November referenda.
Of course, homosexuals still have it tough, and not only in sports. But in several other public professions, such as politics, we see openly homosexual people thriving. The world of professional sports is different: it has been traditionally dominated by the image of “manly” and, by implication, heterosexual men.
This is what makes Kluwe’s amusing rant actually very important. The road that will take our society forward towards full acceptance of any sexual orientation necessarily goes through professional sports. And the only way to remove the roadblocks and to drive through freely is through forceful statements of discontent from the inside.
This acceptance isn’t limited to professional sports. Yes, random people listen to professional athletes much more than they listen to, say, a Yale athlete, but it’s not really the random people that matter — it is the people who play, who will grow up to become “baseball men” and “football men” and who will devote their lives to playing and teaching their game. If, while in college and on younger teams, these athletes are not only taught, but shown, the obvious fact that sexual orientation has absolutely nothing to do with athletic prowess and that bigotry is both unacceptable and stupid, professional sports will naturally follow suit.