Tony Gervino's long, embarrassingly effusive New York Times profile of gay-marriage activist and Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe was sufficiently over the top to embarrass Kluwe himself, if he's as self-aware as Gervino painted him on the front of the Saturday Sports section. According to "The Punter Makes His Point ," Kluwe, "the most interesting man in the N.F.L.," with a "perfect verbal score on the SAT," has done tangible good for "lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in the Twin Cities and elsewhere" with his "ability to turn a memorable phrase."
By contrast, Times columnist Harvey Araton wasn't nearly so nice to Tim Tebow, an active Christian athelete, in a January 2012 column begrudging the time Tebow spent with a brain-damaged locker-room visitor after a playoff loss.
Here's Gervino on Kluwe:
It was a Saturday night in early October, and the temperature was below freezing. A half-hour before team curfew, Chris Kluwe, the Minnesota Vikings’ punter and an unlikely voice of the national debate on same-sex marriage, was polishing off a family-size box of Gobstopper candy, reluctant to leave band practice.
When he is under assault, Kluwe is clearly in his element.
In late August, the Maryland state delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr. wrote to the Baltimore Ravens’ owner, Steve Bisciotti, urging him to silence linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo. Ayanbadejo had been supporting the state’s Civil Marriage Protection Act, which will allow gay couples to obtain a civil marriage license beginning Jan. 1 if it passes a Nov. 6 referendum. Burns asked Bisciotti to “inhibit such expressions from your employee and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions.”
...he pulled off the covers, turned on his MacBook Pro and spent less than an hour composing a response to Burns that was published on Deadspin.com and lifted Kluwe off the sports pages and into the national conversation about the rights of same-sex couples.
For a man who had a perfect verbal score on the SAT, and whom friends, family, teammates and coaches describe as having “no filter,” the brickbat that Kluwe gorilla-swung at the notion of civil discourse became as much the story as the message itself.
“This is more a personal quibble of mine, but why do you hate freedom?” he wrote. “Why do you hate the fact that other people want a chance to live their lives and be happy, even though they may believe in something different than you, or act different than you? How does gay marriage, in any way shape or form, affect your life?”
The letter is a profanity-laden rant, as well as a multilayered, point-by-point decimation of Burns’s argument, so insidiously thorough that Burns waved the white flag two days later in an interview with The Baltimore Sun in which he said, in effect, “Never mind.”
His definition of full-bore is debatable; what’s not in question is the positive manner in which his missive has been received across all sexual orientations and political affiliations.
“The guy’s got a way with words,” Rush Limbaugh said of Kluwe on his radio show.
Kluwe said: “It was funny because it felt like a sign of the apocalypse that Rush Limbaugh and whoever it was from the far left end of the spectrum were both congratulating me. Are pigs flying overhead now?”
Some in the Minnesota news media, used to local athletes and celebrities stringing clichés together, appreciate Kluwe’s candor and his ability to speak extemporaneously on any number of subjects. A voracious reader of as many as five books a week, he has emerged as the local go-to guy for a sound bite about a Michael Moore documentary or the latest action video game. (He stopped playing World of Warcraft 18 months ago, he said, because “it wasn’t a challenge anymore.”) After his response to Burns became widely known, people in the news media privately and publicly expressed admiration for Kluwe’s ability to turn a memorable phrase.
Most recently, Kluwe was featured in Out magazine, posing shirtless, at his wife’s urging, for several photos that he expected to be locker-room fodder among relatively tight-knit, conservative teammates.
Gervino praised the young Kluwe, "a violin prodigy who could play by ear" who "developed an advanced vocabulary," while painting the basic decency of his family as special.
Family dinners often involved lively discussions in which the children were encouraged to defend their opinions. They were taught to treat people the same way, no matter their race, sexual orientation or financial status. The constant companions of Kluwe’s childhood were not toys but books that showed him a world beyond his bedroom. When he was 11, his grandmother, an aerospace engineer and adventurer who climbed Kilimanjaro in her 70s, took him on a two-week trip to Antarctica.
Although Kluwe says he has no idea what he will do in retirement (“Play video games?” his mother said), he will probably not recede from public view. He blogs for The Pioneer Press several times a week, and his growing popularity makes it possible that he will have a national platform someday. The good he has done for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in the Twin Cities and elsewhere is tangible.
“In the sports bar where I hang out, they now see this issue differently because of Chris Kluwe,” said Brad Michael, of Minnesotans for Equality. “That impact can’t be measured.”
With that, the most interesting man in the N.F.L. popped a few more Gobstoppers into his mouth and stepped into the cold night air before driving back to the team hotel, moments before curfew.