RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Most NFL punters spend a majority of their time focusing on one thing:
CHRIS KLUWE: Catch the ball, get a good drop and kick it clean.
MARTIN: That's Chris Kluwe. He was the most successful punter in Minnesota Vikings history. He played for them for eight years. And this year, he signed on to play for the Oakland Raiders. Kluwe is more outspoken than your average NFL player. He doesn't feel the need to keep his pet peeves to himself. Some examples of what bugs him:
KLUWE: Those people who zoom ahead on the side. They don't understand that everyone else is patiently waiting their turn and therefore you should wait your turn.
MARTIN: And people who are big on touching when talking.
KLUWE: It's kind of a difference when a firm handshake turns into a caress or, you know, someone put their hand on your shoulder and then, you know, leaves it there for about 10 seconds.
MARTIN: Kluwe gets riled up about more substantive things too, and some of them have made it into his book of essays out this week. It's called "Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies." And in it, Kluwe expresses his strong support for same-sex marriage. Last year, Kluwe wrote a bombastic letter to a Maryland state legislator, accusing him of bigotry after the congressman suggested that football players should not express public opinions about gay marriage. The letter was so colorful, shall we say, that it went viral. Kluwe says his writing style serves a purpose.
KLUWE: One of the things I found is that if you make a logically constructed argument and then you throw in some very inventive swearing, they'll remember the swearing and then that triggers your point. So...
MARTIN: Has that been your experience?
KLUWE: It has. I really kind of lets you cut through what everyone else is saying. Because, I mean, when you read a book that's dry, boring, technical, lots of jargon, it may be telling you all the information in the world that you need to know, but if you don't want to pay attention to it you're not going to pay attention to it. People don't want to spend the time to work at it. So, if you can present that same argument in a way that is still logical, that's still rational but that gives people a way to latch on, then they're much more likely to remember it and to consider what you said.
MARTIN: So, in the month since you've wrote that letter, you've become a full-throated activist for gay marriage. The White House even invited you to a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender pride reception earlier this month. Is that a position that you're comfortable with?
KLUWE: I never expected to be an activist, but when Minnesotans For Marriage Equality, when they approached me last year to help defeat the constitutional amendment in Minnesota, I looked it over and I said, yeah, this is something worth doing. I don't think we should enshrine discrimination into a state's constitution. There's no reason that we should be discriminating against people in the United States of America considering how many times we've fought this battle before. We've fought this with slavery, we've fought it with suffrage, and we've fought it with segregation, and it seems like every 50 to 60 years we keep having that same stupid war over people who want to control other peoples' lives versus those who just want to be free to live and to love other people.
MARTIN: So, it's not common for someone who's a professional athlete at your level to become so publicly vocal about a political issue. How does all this go down in the locker room?
KLUWE: That's the thing that I have always been very careful of, is that when I'm in the locker room, I'm there to play football, because that's what I'm being paid to do, and if guys want to talk to me, I'm more than happy to have a conversation. But I'm never going to get in anyone's face, I'm never going to try and preach and forcefully convert someone, because that's not what I'm there to do.
MARTIN: As a punter, I've personally always thought that this is the toughest job in the sport, right? I mean, the pressure is unbelievable. It's just you in that moment and you have to make this kick. What is that feeling like?
KLUWE: In the best-case scenario, you don't notice anything else outside of the ball. Really, it's almost Zen-like. You don't want to be thinking about what you're doing because you've practiced the motion so many times that your body knows what to do. You just have to get out of the way. Now, at the same time, you can't let the crowd influence you. And you'll find that pretty much every professional athlete knows how to tune out the crowd because otherwise you won't make it to this level.
MARTIN: There's a little tense in this book when you write about football because in some ways you have this kind of self-loathing, like America's values are out of whack and we pay football players way too much money and we don't pay teachers nearly enough money. But you're still a football player and you're still cashing those checks. How do you make sense of that for yourself?
KLUWE: Ah, put me out of business. It's essentially the fact that as an individual, I can say as much as I want, I can write as much as I want, but until society as a whole decides that we want to value different things, then nothing is going to change, you know? I'm very good at what I do. I'm very good at playing football, and I will continue being very good at playing football until society decides that football is not something they're going to reward, you know, members for way over what they should be rewarded for. And at that point, I'll go find something else to do because I believe that if you spend the time, if you work hard, then you can achieve almost anything you want to do, and so, you know, I enjoy playing football but there's also a lot of other things I would enjoy doing.
MARTIN: Chris Kluwe. He is a punter for the Oakland Raiders. He is a father, writer, avid video game player and the author of the book "Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies." He joined us from Minnesota Public Radio. Hey, Chris, thanks so much.
KLUWE: Yeah, no problem. Thank you for having me on.