Engel: Kluwe pays price for speaking up
May 6, 2013 at 10:13p ET
This is an unpopular opinion for any guy to be espousing nowadays. It is especially deadly if said guy happens to be employed by a professional sports league as Kluwe
The Vikings released the punter Monday. This may or may not have everything to do with Kluwe's views about gay marriage (for) and gun control legislation (for) and just general outspokenness about issues that tend to divide us. It definitely factored into his release, and anybody in Minnesota who says otherwise is lying.
And to themselves.
We are all liars really. We say we want athletes to take stands and have opinions, but this is a lie. We demand they shut up and play, or insist if they must speak that they share our opinions. We refuse to let them be citizens, be human, be real. And this is why we no longer have as many trailblazers like Ali and Jackie, Tommie Smith and Charles Barkley, Jim Brown and Martina Navratilova.
We have screwed ourselves out of heroes. And we have nobody to blame for this but ourselves.
As Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III so eloquently tweeted last week:
"If we speak..we say it the wrong way
"If we do not speak we are cowards...."
He was speaking for all athletes, and he was flinging truth bullets at all of us. Conservative or liberal, atheist or Christian, almost every athlete today who dares to veer off the script of "I love (insert city). All I care about is winning. Please buy (insert product)" gets crushed.
Tim Tebow is too Christian; Kluwe too secular.
Scott Fujita is too PC; Chris Culliver not enough.
On and on and on, this goes with every single thing a player dares to say being scrutinized and ripped. There is no winning this game. So why on earth would any athlete play that game?
What provoked RG3 was blowback from another tweet where he had the audacity (sarcasm font needed) to type: "In the land of freedom we are held hostage by the tyranny of political correctness." This is an absolutely fair sentence, no matter the context.
There was some debate about whether he was referencing Jason Collins and his "I'm gay" announcement or the fight about whether Washington having the Redskins as a moniker was culturally insensitive. It was the latter, and what ensued was a mini-scandal; the lesson for RG3 likely being "Let somebody else fight this battle. This crazy train is not worth taking a stance."
This is why we lack heroes and role models in sports. Of course, when I typed this sentence, my East Coast editor word-slapped in an email. He somewhat rightly noted that people, mostly white ones, had zero interest in hearing Ali's opinions or, in the 1950s, of seeing Jackie play just like the homophobes and religious zealots nowadays do not want to hear from "the gays" or guys like Kluwe, recently retired Scott Fujita and Brendon Ayanbadejo supporting them or their rights.
So why were more athletes, certainly higher-profile and bigger-money athletes, back then more likely to speak out for what they believed, for people without a voice than guys now? The obvious answer is guys like Ali were part of the marginalized group.
Ali was black. He knew the struggle and felt the pain. And even if his wealth and stature had shielded him from the day-to-day struggle of being black in 1960s America, he used his voice to help those not as fortunate. And it cost him. Dearly.
What happened was athletes like Ali and Carlos had grown tired enough to be brave, had grown tired enough to stand up with people and causes that mattered.
Why we see so little of that now is The Jordan Impact, and everybody gets dropped in the grease for this.
Nike endorsements and the money — all the money that is available to athletes if they will just stay on the sidelines of the biggest fights in American politics, life and morality — are too big and the personal impact on them is too small. It is why athletes like Kluwe, Ayanbadejo, Fujita and LeBron James, a year ago wearing a hoodie and standing in solidarity with Trayvon Martin and young profiled black men everywhere, are the exception, not the rule, nowadays. The immediacy of social media has just made the fallout clearer, sooner.
All of this has turned athletes into cowards, taken away valuable voices in the fight against injustice and, for this, we have nobody to blame but ourselves. Telling ourselves anything else is a lie.
So Godspeed, Chris Kluwe.
May your bravery show up in another NFL uniform soon.