Chris Kluwe: Punter, Pundit and Empathy Promoter
Chris Kluwe is the former Minnesota Vikings punter who became famous when he published an enraged response on Deadspin to a Maryland state legislator’s demand to the Baltimore Ravens that they silence their player who had expressed support for same-sex marriage. His well-argued open letter, full of colorful and persuasive language, propelled him into working as a public spokesman for the “Vote No” effort to defeat the anti-same-sex marriage amendment in Minnesota last fall. The amendment was defeated.
For Kluwe, it all comes down to empathy. Plain, simple, basic empathy. As he said on Conan’s talk show, “Societies that don’t practice empathy, if you look at the
historical record, every single civilization has failed. … And really,
the root cause of
that is not being able to put yourself in someone’s shoes. It’s
empathy, it’s treat other people the way you’d like to be treated.”
Now Kluwe has a new book of essays titled Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies. His subject matter ranges from human rights to philosophy to professional football and more. But he keeps coming back to the basic value of empathy, which is his guiding principle in life. In fact, one of the essays, called “All Your Bases”, asserts that “the core of a stable society is a tripod”, one of the legs of which is empathy: “Without its people possessing a fully developed sense of empathy, a society has no freedom. It is only through accepting the differences of others that a stable polity can develop.” (p.60)
One of the most striking essays in the book is called “Somebody Think of the Children”. (p 116-118) He talks about a Vote No gathering that he attended, and shares some of the thoughts he took away from it. First, he says, “Gay people are exactly the same as straight people. They laughed, they yelled, they congratulated me on the Vikings winning, …they spilled beer on the floor and apologized for doing so. They asked for autographs, …and introduced me to their significant others.” Kluwe goes on to say, “Gay people are not treated as American citizens. The number of individuals who came up and thanked Brendon and me for talking a stand was staggering and, frankly, depressing. I use the word depressing because if so many have to thank us for showing basic empathy, thank us for recognizing that they are human beings just like everyone else, that means that many, many other people have not. …it means that we are failing the American dream.”
Then he tells about how he was stunned when a teacher/coach came up to him and thanked him, saying “What you did will save children’s lives.” Kluwe says, “This really hit me, in a primal way I was not expecting. … A child should never have to feel that way. A child should never think that suicide is the only option, the only solution to the tormenting and bullying and unthinking viciousness adults often unwittingly pass along to the young. … Because, make no mistake, children who suffer this way are casualties. All the hopes, all the dreams, all the wonderful potential life has in store are as dust before the scouring winds of intolerance (whether it be racist, sexist, or religious.) Every time you propagate the message that a person who is gay is less than human, that same-sex marriage cannot be as filled with love and laughter and tears as heterosexual marriage, that gays don’t deserve to pass a legacy on the to their families, you quicken that howling storm and sweep away a tiny bit more humantity from the world. … Well, I for one will not stand for it. I will not stand for… people thinking that they have the right to live other people’s lives for them, of the complete lack of empathy so often shown in our society. … I stand for equality under the law, for teating others how I would want to be treated. … I stand for my children.”
Powerful stuff. I stand with Chris Kluwe.