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Kicking it with Chris Kluwe

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An interview with the punter/author/bon vivant

The term 'renaissance man' gets thrown around pretty liberally these days. It seems like all you have to do to get that label is have at least one interest outside your chosen profession; basically, do something beyond just your job at something resembling a high level and boom! Renaissance man.

And then you've got someone like Chris Kluwe.

Kluwe is a professional football player. He's a punter, currently under contract with the Oakland Raiders after spending the bulk of his pro career with the Minnesota Vikings. Kluwe is also a published author, though not in the way of many athletes. No ghost-written hagiography for Mr. Kluwe; instead, he has offered up a collection of essays, thoughts and various musings that provide a degree of insight into the mind of a gentleman who just might be The Most Interesting Man in the NFL.

'Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies: On Myths, Morons, Free Speech, Football, and Assorted Absurdities' (Little, Brown and Company, $27) is as wide-ranging as its title, a collection of short pieces that illustrate Kluwe's attitude about the world around him. Whether he's talking about his prominence as an ally in the fight for marriage equality, his feelings about online discourse in the 21st century or even occasionally football, Kluwe speaks loudly and proudly in a voice that is uniquely his own.

Kluwe sprang into the national consciousness last fall due to a now-infamous letter he posted to Deadspin. Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo spoke out in favor of a Maryland ballot initiative that would have legalized gay marriage. A Maryland state delegate named Emmet C. Burns wrote a letter to Ravens ownership urging them to 'inhibit such expressions from your employee.' Said letter found its way onto Yahoo, where Kluwe saw it. His passionate and profane response to Mr. Burns quickly went viral, propelling him into the pop culture stratosphere.

Recently, Mr. Kluwe was kind enough to take the time to speak to us here at The Maine Edge.

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The Maine Edge  So what prompted you to write the book?

Chris Kluwe - After the letter went viral, I was approached by three or four different publishers who thought I should write a book. I put them off; I just wanted to focus on football. [But] then another three or four approached me and I started thinking to myself 'These are the people in charge of books; maybe they know what they're talking about.'

So I got a literary agent and started looking around. I settled on Little, Brown and Company because they were willing to let me write what I wanted. I didn't want to do a typical sports biography thing and they were OK with that.

TME  When you wrote the Deadspin letter, did you have any idea of the response it would get?

CK  I had no idea it would go viral like that. Ideally, you want to educate people, but a lot more people listened than I ever would have expected. It led to me being asked to get involved with a number of equality organizations.

Honestly, civil rights human rights, really are the biggest issue facing our generation. If you aren't treating people equally, then something is very wrong. Throughout history, societies that don't practice rational empathy have fallen apart.

TME  What sort of responses have you gotten from other players? 

CK  I'd say that overall, I got a pretty good reaction. Not just from my teammates on the Vikings either, but from guys all around the league. Some guys definitely agreed with me and applauded me for speaking out; other guys maybe didn't agree with my stance but admired the fact that I stepped up to defend Brendon. It was pretty positive.

TME  So let's talk about the book a little. Do you have a favorite piece?

CK  Everything I put in, I felt really strongly about. Everything was something that I really wanted to write. I'm not going to force a piece; if I do, it inevitably doesn't feel right.

TME  This book primarily focuses on non-fiction essays. Have you considered delving into the realm of fiction?

CK  It's funny that you mention that. I'm actually in the process of writing a science-fiction trilogy with a friend of mine. We just finished the first draft of the first book; I'm going to go over it and then maybe see if it is something that a publisher might want to pick up.

I read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy. All of the adventure and the excitement, plus the genre really allows you to delve into real issues. You're trying to create this world that's different, but with the best stuff, it still feels believable.

TME  Any favorite authors that you'd like to share?

CK  Terry Pratchett.

TME  Oh, I love Discworld.

CK  Yeah, Pratchett's the best. I read a lot of Iain Banks. Neil Gaiman is fantastic. I really like L.E. Modessit. And Brandon Sanderson he's the guy that took over the 'Wheel of Time' series has a series called 'Stormlight' that I really enjoy.

I've read guys like Niven and Asimov and Heinlein; I like the hard sci-fi, but not as much as the more modern stuff.

TME  Now, we live in a world where it seems like all a pro athlete has to do to be labeled 'internet-savvy' is manage his own Twitter account. You, on the other hand, seem to be legitimately comfortable in the internet realm. Have you always been an online guy?

CK  Sure. I've pretty much always been a part of the online world. I grew up playing video games. When I started in with the online games back in the day stuff like 'Command & Conquer' and 'Duke Nuke Em' my friends and I would have to know all kinds of things to make it happen. Where stuff plugged in, which numbers went to which modem; you just had to know how to set things up. You had to be aware of how things worked.

And then the internet just kept getting bigger. I was huge into online gaming; back then, it was mostly a certain type of person, living on the message boards and all that. It was great. So my [internet awareness] was a logical outgrowth of my time spent gaming.

TME  I suppose while I've got you, I should probably ask about football. You've been pretty vocal in the past about the exclusion of Ray Guy considered by many to be the greatest punter in NFL history from the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Why do you think special teamers have so much trouble getting enshrined in Canton?

CK  I think the main reason is the fact that people just aren't as well-versed when it comes to special teams. You don't have as much of a chance to see what the specialists do. It's easier to identify that greatness when you're talking about a quarterback or a linebacker or a wide receiver, guys you'll see on the field 30 or more times in a game. 

Meanwhile, a punter or a kicker, you're only seeing him four or five times a game. Even when people do notice him, a lot of them will dismiss him as 'just a specialist.'

It all comes down to the fact that many people don't understand how important strong special teams play is or how to recognize it when they see it.

TME  So what are the sorts of things that fans should be looking for? 

CK - When you're looking at a punter, you want to look at things like hang time and direction, how many times he puts a kick inside the 20 - a fair catch at the 10, down at the 8.

On a good punt, you'll see the gunners get to the returner right as he catches the ball or right after so he doesn't have room to run.

On a less good punt, the returner will have a ton of space when he catches the ball; time to get up a head of steam.

The gunners come out in a very specific way, so the kick needs to be placed in the right area - hit the right numbers from the right hash mark.

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In a sports world where bland platitudes and colorless sound bites has become the norm, Chris Kluwe is a breath of fresh air. Whether you agree with his positions on the issues, you cannot deny the articulate passion with which he expresses his beliefs. He is well-spoken and witty; a jocular jock. Maybe he amuses you, maybe he infuriates you either way, he captures your attention.

Professional sports could use a few more Chris Kluwes.

WED EDITORS NOTE: Click here to read Allen's review of Chris Kluwe's book, Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies.

Last modified on Wednesday, 26 June 2013 10:46

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