NFL players back gay marriage, America
BY NEIL STEINBERG email@example.com September 9, 2012 8:18PM
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 9: Blair Walsh #3 of the Minnesota Vikings celebrates the game tying field goal with holder Chris Kluwe #5 and lineman Charlie Johnson #74 against the Jacksonville Jaguars during NFL opening day September 9, 2012 at Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Vikings defeated the Jaguars 26-23 in overtime. (Photo by Andy King/Getty Images)
Updated: October 11, 2012 6:16AM
Granted, I am not a football expert (pause, for general laughter among regular readers). But I don’t believe there are many situations where a punter blocks for a linebacker, particular when the linebacker is on another team.
But that’s exactly what happened when Minnesota Viking Chris Kluwe wrote a letter in support of Baltimore Ravens linebacker (and former Bear) Brendon Ayanbadejo.
First, some background: Early this year, Maryland passed a law legalizing gay marriage. Opponents put a referendum on the November ballot to overturn it. Spearheading “Question 6,” ironically, are pastors in African-American churches who, in a sad but common example of compassion blindness, fail to grasp that bias against a person’s sexuality comes from the same well of fear as bias against a person’s color. While Maryland is generally split on gay marriage, its black population is against it, 59 to 41 percent.
To try to reach out to the black community, a group called Marylanders for Marriage Equality produced three videos featuring well-known African-Americans: Julian Bond, the former NAACP chairman; Mo’Nique, the actress; and Ayanbadejo.
In his video, the Chicago-born athlete looks calmly into the camera and says:
“I believe we should be doing everything that we can to make Maryland families stronger. Which is why I support marriage for gay and lesbian couples who want to make a lifetime commitment to each other. . . . Join me; it’s the right thing to do.”
This was too much for Emmet C. Burns Jr., a state legislator and minister, who wrote a letter to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, demanding he “take the necessary action, as a National Football Franchise Owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employee.”
Burn’s letter drew a flamethrower blast of a reply from Kluwe, which has to be cherished by anyone who loves freedom, or even just appreciates a great, scorching polemic:
“Dear Emmett C. Burns Jr.,” it begins, “I find it inconceivable that you are an elected official of Maryland’s state government. Your vitriolic hatred and bigotry make me ashamed and disgusted to think that you are in any way responsible for shaping policy at any level. The views you espouse neglect to consider several fundamental key points, which I will outline in great detail.”
Oh boy, does he. (You can find the full obscenity-laced letter on deadspin.com. Sadly, I can’t even allude to its artful use of profanity.) “Not only are you clearly violating the First Amendment, you also come across as a narcissistic [gross slang I had to look up] stain. What on earth possesses you to be so mind-bogglingly stupid? It baffles me that a man such as yourself, a man who relies on the same First Amendment to pursue your own religious studies without fear of persecution from the state, could somehow justify stifling another person’s right to speech.”
He quotes Burns, who wrote, “Many of your fans are opposed to such a view and feel it has no place in a sport that is strictly for pride, entertainment, and excitement,” then lets loose an expletive I’d never heard before, adding, “Did you seriously just say that, as someone who’s ‘deeply involved in governmental task forces on the legacy of slavery in Maryland?’ Have you not heard of Kenny Washington? Jackie Robinson? As recently as 1962 the NFL still had segregation, which was only done away with by brave athletes and coaches daring to speak their mind and do the right thing, and you’re going to say that political views have ‘no place in sport?’ ”
Washington was the first African American to sign a post-war NFL contract, in 1946, and the Redskins were all white until 1962.
Since this column is about prejudice, I have to admit Kluwe’s letter changed how I view NFL players — I knew that pro athletes could be smart, but I thought it was just Joakim Noah. Obviously there are a lot more.
I don’t want to spend the whole column quoting Kluwe, but he asks Burns a question that should be put to all fearful haters who believe a few lines in their particular faith’s special book will excuse their loathsome bias forever: “Why do you hate freedom? 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?”
Now other NFL players are also speaking out. Which should remind the bigots-hiding-behind-Bibles that when you’ve lost pro athletes, you’ve lost. Freedom is a one-way street. Blacks don’t contemplate a return to slavery. Women don’t agonize whether getting the vote was a good or bad thing. Having fought their way out of the closet and tasted the joys of daily life, unafraid and unashamed, gay people are never going back. That’s just a fact. You can be among those who helped, or you can be a stumbling block, but the end result will be the same. Me, I went online and joined the Chris Kluwe Fan Club.