The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports Columns

April 29, 2013

There's nothing wrong with punting and speaking

MANKATO — If you’ve hung around Vikings Training Camp in Mankato for any length of time, it doesn’t take long to figure out that the punters and kickers don’t have a heck of a lot to do.

If you’re sitting in the stands, those most-special of special-teams players can be seen — if you squint just right — two fields away, booting the occasional ball. But usually, they’re just standing around talking to each other, waiting for their 15 minutes of daily fame.

In most years and with most teams, those players are seen and not heard. As long as they’re not missing chip-shot field goals or shanking punts, few, including their coaches, are going to pay them much mind.

That started to change in recent years with the Vikings’ Chris Kluwe. The punter, who has been with Minnesota for his entire eight-year career, has gained a considerable amount of fame.

He became one of the first Vikings players to really embrace social media. He not only gained followers but he interacted with them and showed off his wit and character.

Others found him interesting because he played World of Warcraft and because he’s the bass player in a band called Tripping Icarus (a couple of summers ago, the group played in Mankato a few weeks before training camp began.)

When the Vikings signed quarterback Donovan McNabb in 2011, the longtime Philadelphia Eagles No. 5 had to “buy” his jersey number from Kluwe in exchange for a $5,000 donation to Kluwe’s favorite charity, some publicity for Kluwe’s band and an ice cream cone. The negotiation was broadcast on the Vikings’ website.

Kluwe took his fame from silly to serious last year when he became an outspoken advocate and champion for gay rights, including marriage equality.

In an era in which professional athletes shy away from political action as they become insulated by their sponsors and handlers, it was refreshing to see one — albeit a punter — actually stand up and fight for something on a national stage.

Not everyone felt that way, it seemed.

Last December, after Kluwe wore a patch on his jersey advocating punter Ray Guy be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer appeared to have enough of the grandstanding.

“To me, it’s getting old,” Priefer said. “He’s got to focus on punting and holding (for field goals).”

Focus? Has Priefer seen his punter in practice.

Despite Kluwe coming off one of his better seasons, the Vikings surprisingly drafted a punter, UCLA’s Jeff Locke, in the fifth round on Saturday.

General manager Rick Spielman said the pick had nothing to do with Kluwe’s off-the-field actions.

If Kluwe loses his job because he got outkicked in camp or because of salary cap concerns, fine. That happens in the NFL all the time. But he should not be cut because he chose to stand up for something and speak his mind.

Whether the move is justified or not, if Kluwe’s not in Mankato this July and August, he will be missed — more so for his voice than his leg.

Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com, and follow him on Twitter @puckato.

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