Chris Kluwe's rise to national celebrity status has coincided with a noticeable dip in his consistency as the Minnesota Vikings' punter. It would be easy to connect the two, and we all know there are some NFL teams that would. Kluwe is fortunate his employer has not.
The Vikings worked out free agent punter Brian Stahovich earlier this week. On Wednesday, however, coach Leslie Frazier said the team is confident Kluwe will work through his slump. More importantly, Frazier said he didn't think Kluwe's time-consuming campaign in support of same-sex marriage has impacted Kluwe's performance on the field.
"Chris is a pro," Frazier told reporters. "He's been able to deal with so many things in his career. He's been able to focus in these situations and focus on the task at hand and has been a very good punter, which he is. I don't think anything off the field is distracting him. He knows how to focus on his job, and I fully expect him to have a big game for us Sunday."
For the better part of two months, Kluwe has been on a whirlwind tour of media engagements and promotional appearances to help defeat a proposed amendment to the Minnesota constitution, one that would ban same-sex marriage. He's chronicled much of it on Twitter and his blog at the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
I see nothing wrong with an American citizen exercising his right for activism. I also don't pretend that NFL punters spend 24 hours a day working on their craft. Everyone has a life off the field to some extent.
At the same time, we know this league is an insulated and team-oriented business. Some of its leaders take that sentiment to extremes. I've covered coaches who would recoil at the idea of a player either drawing attention to himself publicly or dedicating significant amounts of time to pursuits other than football, which might or might not be a distraction or a physical drain. Just the smallest smidgeon of a downturn in performance would be enough to make a move.
Trust me on that one. There is a famous story about Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew, for one. During his playing career with the Washington Redskins, he didn't want the team to find out he was attending law school at night for fear his commitment would be questioned. Law school at night!
Kluwe, of course, isn't just drawing attention to himself and dedicating significant amounts of time to pursuits other than football. Wednesday, he admitted that he considers his advocacy for same-sex marriage more important than football.
Kluwe: "The funny thing is if you look at that argument, the basic foundation of that argument, it's that, 'Why don't you worry more about a children's game than basic human rights?' And yeah, I'm going to generally go with the basic human rights on that issue."
In those terms, it's hard to argue. But you can't assume that any employer, let alone an NFL team, is going to see or care about that big picture. Football is not a children's game to the people who supervise Kluwe or sign his checks.
For the moment, at least, Frazier does not appear fazed. Kluwe's season hasn't been terrible, but over the past two games, eight of his 13 punts have grossed less than 40 yards. Included in that group was a 20-yard shank last Thursday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (Kluwe told reporters Wednesday he has identified the fundamentals he needs to correct moving forward. )
I don't want anyone to read this post and think I'm suggesting Kluwe has made a bad choice here. I admire his passion and willingness to use his platform to take a social stand. I just think he's fortunate there haven't been any professional consequences. It doesn't take much in this league.