Chris Kluwe has for the past eight years been the punter (and holder for place kicks) for the Minnesota Vikings. He has been one of the better punters in the NFL through those eight years, and, in his own opinion at least, the best punter the Vikings have ever had.
He also, last year, emerged as a high-profile opponent of the marriage amendment in Minnesota. He was a vocal and forceful spokesman for the victorious side in the campaign, which was, of course, fought out in large part at the same time as the football season.
Last week the Vikings drafted a punter, Jeff Locke of UCLA (Kluwe’s alma mater), in the fifth round. This is an unmistakable threat to Kluwe’s job; NFL teams generally regard kicking specialists as cheap commodities and prefer to sign them as free agents. They seldom invest a valuable draft pick on a mere punter.
Rick Spielman, the Vikings general manager, insisted that drafting Locke had nothing to do with Kluwe’s political activism: “It’s a football move.”
General managers in all sports spout untruths about personnel moves; it’s part of the job, and no serious fan accepts any such statement at face value.
It’s possible that Locke is a better punter than Kluwe now. The rookie certainly figures to be lower priced than the veteran. So Spielman may be correct, and swapping out Kluwe for Locke might be best for the team. Might.
Kluwe himself noted repeatedly during last fall’s speculation that his political involvement would ultimately cost him his job that “we all get cut sooner or later” for reasons of performance or finances.
Kluwe’s varied interests and extroverted personality irritate at least some of his coaches, one of whom last fall told reporters he wanted Kluwe to “just shut up.” Football coaches, as a group, tend to view anything off the field as a “distraction,” and Kluwe is eager to be thus distracted.
Ideally, his political activism won’t cost him his job; the reality is that it almost certainly led his bosses to look for reasons and opportunity to replace him.
Kluwe remains a high-level punter. If the Vikings cut him loose, he should have no serious difficulty finding a new job. If he does, it will say a great deal about the culture of the NFL, and little of it good.