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Minnesota Vikings’ Chris Kluwe: ‘Why can’t a gay player be who they are?’

Alexandria Chapin / Lantern photographer

With the Supreme Court currently debating the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8, both of which define marriage as only between a man and a woman, the national debate regarding same-sex marriage is as intense as it has ever been.

Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe may be one of same-sex marriage’s most well-known supporters, at least among football fans. He visited Ohio State Monday to discuss his point of view in an event sponsored by the Moritz College of Law.

Kluwe has been playing an active role in the fight against Proposition 8, as the co-author of an amicus brief titled “Athletes’ Brief,” along with NFL linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, who most recently played for the Baltimore Ravens.

The brief has been signed by a number of professional athletes and sports-related figures who also support same-sex marriage, including NFL Players’ Association executive director DeMaurice Smith and former Columbus Crew soccer player Robbie Rogers, who simultaneously came out as gay and retired from soccer in February.

“I figured that athletes signing on for an amicus brief would have an effect on the Supreme Court … because that’s not generally an issue of the population that weighs in on political matters,” Kluwe said of the brief. “We did that, got a bunch of other athletes to sign on and hopefully make the court think about the fact that what they do has an impact.

“What they do is where people are going to draw their inspiration from,” Kluwe added. “This is a case where they can literally make history.”

Kluwe said that inside NFL front offices, the biggest concern about a player coming out is the potential distraction that it could cause for the team.

“There is kind of this unwritten idea that gay players cannot come out because it would create a media firestorm around that, which in turn might distract the team from focusing on football,” Kluwe said. “My response to that would be there is tons of distractions that go on on any given year … It’s not like there’s a shortage of distractions already. Why can’t a gay player be who they are?”

Not everyone in the NFL agrees with Kluwe’s point of view about the distraction blowing over. Seattle Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons tweeted from his Twitter handle @chrisclemons91 on March 26 that he thinks gay NFL players should keep their sexuality private, saying a player coming out would “make themselves bigger than the team.”

Kluwe said he thinks the issue will “blow over in a month or two” once a first active NFL player comes out as homosexual.

“The first guy or guys that come out, yeah, there’s going to be some attention, but after that, no one will care,” Kluwe said. “Then it becomes, how well can you play football, which is the way it should be.”

Kluwe said he thinks it would be “easier” for a well-known player to come out than a lesser-known player, because of their established success.

“Another player, it could be harder because they may be on the verge of getting cut anyways,” Kluwe said. “Then people are going to ask, ‘well, did he get cut because of his performance? did he get cut because he was gay?’ That being said, I think any player that comes out as openly gay will have done the right thing for themselves because no one should have to hide who they are.”

Kluwe said he does not know whether any of his current or former teammates are gay, but said statistics indicate that there are numerous homosexual players in the NFL.

“I know that I’ve played with gay players before, I do not know who they are,” Kluwe said. “Honestly, it’s about can you play on the field on Sunday, that’s all I’m concerned about when I’m on the football field.”

Kluwe said in a post-event interview that it was “awesome to be able to talk about tolerance and respect and equality” at OSU, and he thinks sports can spread that message to a new audience.

“Traditionally, a lot of sports fans don’t necessarily worry about other political issues, about social issues, they look at sports as pure entertainment,” Kluwe told The Lantern. “That’s why when sports does take a stand on an issue, it’s so powerful because you reach an audience that might not otherwise be reached.”

Grant Stancliff, communications manager for LGBT-advocacy group Equality Ohio, also spoke at the event prior to Kluwe. Stancliff said he thought the event was “fantastic.”

“Hearing him … taking the long view about how we want to be a society that is empathetic, and that can grow together and that can function together, I really enjoyed it,” Stancliff said.

Naman Mody, a first-year graduate student in computer science, attended the event and said he enjoyed hearing a different perspective on the issue of same-sex marriage rights.

“When somebody of his fame and stature comes out and talks about this issue, it makes people think and reflect upon these ideas,” Mody said.

Kluwe said he views the issue of same-sex marriage bans as an issue of people being “denied the freedom to live their own lives.” A political science and history major while playing football at UCLA, he compared the same-sex marriage debate to previous issues in U.S. history.

“We’ve fought this fight before: it’s been segregation, suffrage and slavery,” Kluwe said. “There really has been the same fight over controlling other people’s lives, and if you can present it to people in that way and make them think about the fact that this is not freedom, this is about controlling someone, then they start to figure it out.”

Same-sex marriage is currently legal in only nine U.S. states, plus the District of Columbia. The Ohio Revised Code defines that marriage “may only be entered into by one man and one woman.”

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