America's last closet: Professional sports

Gay athletes are finally coming out, but Chris Kluwe's fight isn't over

America's last closet: Professional sports
Gay athletes are finally coming out, but Chris Kluwe's fight isn't over

SITTING ON A PARK BENCH in the affluent ocean town of Huntington Beach, just a few miles from where he grew up, Chris Kluwe appears in his element this sunny afternoon — probably more so than he ever could be in wintry Minnesota. His long hair is pulled into a ponytail, and as is his custom, he dresses casually in basketball shorts and flip-flops. A landscape of gated communities and mansions stretches for miles.

Kluwe's life has shifted dramatically since he appeared on the cover of City Pages just 18 months ago. At the time, Kluwe was among the highest paid punters in the NFL, with an $8.3 million six-year contract for the Vikings. But though he thought he had enough leg left for at least one more contract, Kluwe's days kicking footballs are over.

Former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe is ready to take the fight to the courtroom
Andy Mannix
Former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe is ready to take the fight to the courtroom
Chris Kluwe (in back) at the house party to celebrate Michael Sam (center)
Courtesy Howard Bragman
Chris Kluwe (in back) at the house party to celebrate Michael Sam (center)

Kluwe now spends his time tending to his two young daughters, and until recently staffing a table-top gaming store he owned called Mercenary Market. He's preparing an upcoming TED Talk on the topic of "augmented reality and sports." That's when he's not working on his football memoir or the science-fiction trilogy he's writing.

Asked if he has any more long-term career prospects, Kluwe is characteristically nonchalant.

"Not really," he says. "Just kind of hanging out. I think I'll continue writing because I enjoy doing it. And see where life takes me."

The sports world has changed radically since Kluwe began speaking out for gay rights. Before this year, no active gay player had ever come out in the NFL, NHL, MLB, or NBA, earning these four major male sports the unflattering moniker "America's Last Closet."

That changed when veteran NBA center Jason Collins signed a contract with the Brooklyn Nets in February, almost a year after coming out as gay in a Sports Illustrated cover story, earning him a spot on TIME's "100 Most Influential People" list.

Collins was just the first of many gay athletes to come to the fore. On April 9, University of Massachusetts guard Derrick Gordon became the first Division 1 basketball player in history to come out.

University of Missouri defenseman Michael Sam also announced he was gay earlier this year. Which means that if he makes the NFL draft this weekend, Sam will be the first-ever openly gay NFL player.

"I think the takeaway is: Change has come pretty quickly," says Dan Woog, author of Jocks: True Stories of America's Gay Male Athletes. "And it's continuing. There's no turning back."

It's not just the four major U.S. sports that are experiencing this revolution. Among the other notable athletes to come out recently have been WNBA star Brittney Griner, British soccer player Robbie Rogers, and boxer Orlando Cruz.

"We're just waiting for the next domino to fall," says Dave Pallone, a gay former baseball umpire and author of Behind the Mask: My Double Life in Baseball. "I'm hoping it's going to be baseball. I'm really hoping."

As an outspoken straight ally, Kluwe helped launch the issue into the mainstream debate. But Kluwe believes this very off-field activism is why, after eight years, he was cut from the Vikings last summer.

Earlier this year, the team hired investigators to examine Kluwe's claims that a special teams coach regularly spewed homophobic speech on the field. Among his allegations is that the coach once said in a team meeting: "We should round up all the gays, send them to an island and nuke it until it glows."

Kluwe and his lawyer believe their case against the Vikings could help address the bullying culture in locker rooms that has festered for decades, forcing athletes to play their entire careers in the closet.

"It's going to have to change, because there are going to be lawsuits," says Clayton Halunen, Kluwe's attorney. "They're not going to be able to live in this ivory tower anymore like they've been able to, untouchable because they're so powerful."

ON FEBRUARY 8, SPORTS PUBLICIST HOWARD BRAGMAN threw a party at his house in Los Angeles, a private affair with a selective guest list of sports media, agents, and retired athletes, all of whom shared a common mission: to help a gay pro athlete come out publicly.

Chris Kluwe was one of the attendees among a who's who of gay-friendly athletes. They included former Green Bay Packers defenseman David Kopay, who was the first football player to ever come out as gay, after retiring in the '70s. There was Billy Bean, a gay former MLB outfielder, along with Ravens linebacker and same-sex marriage proponent Brendon Ayanbadejo. Also in attendance were retired NFL cornerback Wade Davis, who also came out after retirement, and Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of Outsports, a website that covers LGBT issues in sports.

The guest of honor was Michael Sam, who was at the time an almost unknown defenseman from Mizzou. Dressed casually in jeans and a blue plaid shirt, Sam sipped whiskey and showed the others pictures of his boyfriend. He appeared collected and in good spirits, despite the fact that the next day would likely be the most important of his life.

"Michael's not the kind of guy who gets nervous," says Bragman.

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15 comments
kurt124
kurt124 topcommenter

nobody cares

James477
James477

Great story, but the cover picture. Really?  Way to perpetuate the gay stereotype even further

joev4012
joev4012

LOL, these guys can come out of the closet and their team mates will not say a word other than in huge support because they are TOLD to behave in this way. At this time the PC community has silenced free expression of speech unless said speech reflects their own values.


Gays are 3% of the population and will be represented as such in pro sports. A miniscule amount and you can BET they are expecting to be treated in a special way simply because they are gay. But guess what? If an athlete sucks then he sucks and all the liberal hand wringing about criticizing him will be for nothing.


If we are supposed to be color blind, gender blind a sexual persuasion blind then WHY are we even bringing this subject up?


Finally, if you people here actually believe players a team with a gay player on it will feel comfortable in the shower with him/her KNOWING they are being "checked out" then you are totally insane. These gays will be publicly accepted by the team and privately left to hang out with their own kind.


You may not like to hear this but nonetheless it is the truth.

mrchrisdurant
mrchrisdurant

An excellent story about a subject that cannot be brought up enough!   As far as the cover art, beautiful!, and it is going on my wall!  Thank You very much!  I have no issue with men, or women, showing a little skin. Um.  We came into this world naked, I don't understand what all the fuss is about. Hop on the bus, Gus!   

jesus
jesus

that drawing is shameful. this is not about sexuality or sex. it is about equality and equal opportunity to express yourself as an individual. to portray that with an sexual overtone with low-riding zubaz is a slap in the face. this is about equality. hard to believe this passed for acceptable. minneapolis deserves better.

Luke LaRock
Luke LaRock

Enough of kluwe!!!!! I support gay equality but not a punter with a need for fame. Please stop giving him an outlet. You're like cnn looking for planes

wes01
wes01

Robbie Rogers is an American soccer player and he's currently playing in MLS and has been greeted with rainbow banners by supporters groups.

Crystal Roth
Crystal Roth

He is a bad punter, that is why he is gone and Oakland released him as well. He could have stood up and said something at the actual moment he was offended....But I suppose he was getting a nice fat check at that time.

IAmJoshuaReid
IAmJoshuaReid

@citypages Is this about Kluwe or the lives of the gay athletes? Who should really be focused on here?

John Bunch
John Bunch

Not really, because a player already came out.

NoMoreGasthof
NoMoreGasthof

@joev4012 if you think that because someone is gay they are "checking out" everyone of the same sex then you have proven just how ignorant you are...i would hardly call the above the truth, just your skewed reality

nate.brennan
nate.brennan

@IAmJoshuaReid @citypages  Agreed. He's a great advocate, but it probably doesn't send the best message having two gay athletes standing (almost hiding) behind a straight one. It'd be like having MLK and Malcolm X hiding behind some random white civil rights advocate.

 
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