When KQED Pop found out NFL punter (and new Oakland Raider), openly straight equality activist and author Chris Kluwe was making an appearance at the Castro Books Inc. to promote his first book Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies: On Myths, Morons, Free Speech, Football and Assorted Absurdities, we knew we had to be there. Kluwe defies the stereotype of the single-minded athlete and spoke to a packed audience about his equality activism, his hopes for his new team, politics, the future of openly gay athletes and of course, video games and Twitter. We talked to Kluwe about his new digs in the Bay Area, “overtouchers,” and his status as the LGBT community’s new, cool straight buddy. Football may have even come up once or twice.
KQED Pop: Since your letter to Maryland state delegate Emmett C. Burns supporting NFL player Brendon Ayanbadejo’s right to openly state his support of marriage equality and your stepping up as an equality activist, you’ve become the gay community’s cool new straight friend. How does it feel after having a high profile career as an NFL punter to suddenly have the appreciation of a new demographic?
Chris Kluwe: It’s interesting: I can’t say it’s something I ever set out to do. It’s more about treating other people the way I’d like to be treated. If I’m allowed to live my life free than everyone else has to be able to live their lives free, otherwise the system doesn’t work. That’s what equality is. It baffles me that people don’t understand that. It’s cool; I have gotten a lot of fashion advice. Apparently wearing sandals on national TV is a faux pas. Who knew? After wearing them on Colbert and Conan, I guess it’s my thing now.
Is that a punter thing? To keep your feet happy?
Kluwe: It toughens them up. That which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.
I’d venture that your gay fans appreciate you on a different level than your NFL fans. What’s it like to have a fan base now that wants to hear your political opinions?
Kluwe: This is all stuff I’ve always said to friends and family and, before social media, it probably would have just been to friends and family. Now, with the rise of stuff like Facebook and Twitter, that stuff is now reaching a broader audience. It gives me hope for the future in that a lot of people who I wouldn’t have expected on my Twitter account have said “hey, that’s awesome. Way to go.” That’s cool that people are getting that we have to treat each other with empathy, we have to treat each other equally.
Any surprising fan interactions?
Kluwe: I think I have a couple of porn stars following me on Twitter now. That’s pretty cool. As a punter, I usually don’t get the porn star action.
Is porn star inequality for punters an injustice in the NFL we need to expose?
Kluwe: It really is. You look at Rob Gronkowski and he’s out with the porn stars because he’s the tight end, but you look at the punters and we’re people too. Where are our porn stars?
Let’s talk about over-touchers and people who don’t respect personal space.
Kluwe: It’s on my list of things that irk me in the book. It’s the person for whom a handshake turns into a caress turns into a “please let my hand go.” You’ve trapped it, okay, let it go.
What are your go-to ways of disengaging?
Kluwe: I took Aikido in college so I know how to break wrist lock and stuff like that; very circular motions so you can just sort of roll out of it. It’s finding that point of weakest resistance between the thumb and the finger and just sliding it out. It’s basic muscle mechanics.
How does it feel to be joining the Oakland Raiders in the fall? As a team with a history of being socially progressive (Oakland had one of the first African American coaches in professional football), do you feel like it’s an especially good fit for your values?
Kluwe: It’s a great organization, great legacy, great history and unfortunately they haven’t been great the last five or ten years, but that’s what we’re trying to change. Every team goes through down periods and at some point you’ve just got to say: that’s enough, we’re going to change this and go back to playing well. I think we’ll be able to do that.
Have you been able to spend any time in the Bay Area yet?
Kluwe: I’m a So Cal based guy, my wife has a couple friends up here so we come up to visit every so often. I’ve been to a lot of weddings and bachelor/bachelorette parties.
Which is the best way to see our city.
Kluwe: Exactly. I’m starting to learn where everything is, trying to get a feel for the different areas. That’s one of the fun parts of a new team.
Anything you’d like some friendly advice on from locals?
Kluwe: I’d say food, but it seems like there are so many restaurants here you can’t go wrong.
Are you interested in foodie culture?
Kluwe: Not really, I like good food. I like good sushi. I’m looking for sushi recommendations.
Will you commute up or are you going to get a place in Oakland?
Kluwe: I’ll live in the Oakland area because it’ll be closer to the practice facility where I’ll spend most of my time. It’s a much better commute for my family up here than to Minnesota.
Are you still a World of Warcraft player?
Kluwe: It’s funny actually, my Twitter handle is obviously @chriswarcraft, but I haven’t played WOW in about two and a half years because I got bored with the rating scene.
Do you remember your first video games?
Kluwe: I started with the original Nintendo System with “Mario Brothers” and “Duck Hunt” with the light gun.
What are you playing now?
Kluwe: Mainly single player games. I picked up “Monster Hunter 3″ for the 3DS since it’s portable and I just picked up “Rogue Legacy” for the PC. I need need to play “Last of Us” for PS3. Really, it’s games that I can pause since with kids you have to be able to put the game down and take care of them.
Do your daughters play video games yet?
Kluwe: Yes, I’m definitely happy to introduce them to that world.
Have they beaten you at anything yet?
Kluwe: No, I don’t let them win. (Laughing) If you’re going to win you have to earn it. You have to compete.
Chris, thanks for your time, and congratulations on the book.
Kluwe: I think by now people know what I’m going to say: “treat people the way you want to be treated.” It’s not a hard philosophy. We learn it in kindergarten.
Thanks for reminding people of it.
Kluwe: It is my honor and my pleasure. It is something, if you want to have a stable society, we have to understand. Equality can’t be optional; everyone has to be free to live their lives.
Do you think football and the NFL is getting more accepting of the possibility of an openly gay player?
Kluwe: I think so. Football is a subset of society as a whole, so you see as younger kids come into the league, and it is a younger man’s game, that’s the great thing about it, you’ve got guys constantly coming in from college, you see that these are kids that have been raised in an atmosphere of more tolerance, more equality and they know someone who is gay, they’ve had a teammate who is gay, they have a family member who is gay and they understand this isn’t something to be feared, it’s not “different.” It’s people living their lives. Their attitude is “why should I care about this? Why should I discriminate against someone who is just like me?”
Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies: On Myths, Morons, Free Speech, Football and Assorted Absurdities is currently available online and in stores now from Little, Brown and Company.