Chris Kluwe Better Punter Than Writer

Chris KluweChris Kluwe is a punter for the Oakland Raiders. When I was a kid, I was fascinated by punters because their kicking legs went up so high. You’ve got to be flexible to do that kind of thing. And in a game as unrelentingly boring as football, the punters and kickers are kind of cool. But I had never heard of Kluwe until yesterday when I read an article he had written for Salon, Here’s What’s Wrong With Ayn Rand, Libertarians.

He read Atlas Shrugged and determined what was wrong with John Galt: he lacks what Kluwe calls “rational empathy.” What he means by this is basically the Golden Rule. And that is not a form of empathy. One doesn’t have to agree with another or think that one might find himself in the same situation to empathize with that person. Kluwe accepts Ayn Rand’s philosophical framing: I’ll help you because it helps me and for no other reason. He just wants to soften the rough edges of her philosophy. The problem is that he’s attacking a caricature of that philosophy. Objectivism is really no more cruel than the philosophy that Kluwe has on offer.

There is so much to criticize about Ayn Rand. Corey Robin has long been very insightful about her melodramatic approach to life, as in Garbage and Gravitas. Or if you prefer something less intellectual, there’s Kevin Drum’s question about the timing of Atlas Shrugged. Or there is my own discussion of Ayn Rand as the racist she was, Ayn Rand and Indians. But Kluwe just bites around the edges of Rand as if he pretty much agrees with her. He even repeats a tired conservative canard about the “welfare collectors who churn out babies because it means another weekly check to buy shoes or purses.” Why doesn’t he come right out and say what he means: the welfare queen in a Cadillac.

None of this really mattered as I read the article. Kluwe is not a public intellectual and he was at least grappling with ideas that very few people do. Then I got to the end of article where it said, “Excerpted from the book Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies by Chris Kluwe.” This is a big complaint of mine. Kluwe made $1.6 million just from playing football last year. Does he really need to publish a book in an already crowded industry? This is what I wrote about Stephen Colbert:

Ever notice that any given movie star manages to direct (And often write!) a passable movie? It’s because they get loads of help and all the department heads they surround themselves with are professionals. Note how no actor goes on to be a focus puller in a movie. They are “directors” with a nod and a wink. I would say the same thing about most celebrity writers. Recently, I spent about 90 seconds reading Stephen Colbert’s entire I Am a Pole (And So Can You!). That’s 32 pages for $15.99. Can you guess how it ends? I did! The only intelligent thing I ever heard Russell Crowe say was that if they ever used his music in a movie of his we should shoot him. Any star who is an aspiring writer (or whatever) should send their work out anonymously to figure out if they really have talent. In general, I’m sure the answer will be a resounding, “No!”

But in Colbert’s case, he can actually write. Kluwe’s writing, despite all the editorial help he undoubtedly received, is weak. It’s awkward. He repeats himself in an almost random way that reeks of a first draft. Yet the book is a best seller—not because it is a good book but because Kluwe is a star in the NFL. This is yet another reason we have The Winner-Take-All Society: because success in one field guarantees it in all others. We can only hope that Kluwe doesn’t get it into his head to start a band and direct movies. But if he does, I assure you they will be hugely popular.


Am I jealous of Kluwe? Of course! It is entirely unfair that such a literary and intellectual mediocrity gets to write for Salon. There is no way this SubGenius would be published there or anywhere else except that he apparently can punt a football with great skill. It is an offense to all serious writers—good and poor.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

2 thoughts on “Chris Kluwe Better Punter Than Writer

  1. A disagreement of perspective here.

    Kluwe is not being published because he’s an NFL player; well, not exclusively for that reason. He’s being published because, during his time as an NFL player for the Minnesota Vikings, he was a loud/proud advocate for gay marriage.

    Background: athletes NEVER take stances against conservative mores, and particularly not in football. A Baltimore Ravens player did. A Maryland elected official told the Ravens owner that this stance offended him, and the team should punish the player. Kluwe’s response went viral:

    Kluwe then publicly opposed last year’s attempt to amend the Minnesota state constitution to ban gay marriage; already illegal under state law, but harder to overturn if a constitutional amendment passed. Besides, the point wasn’t to ban an illegal thing, but to turn out religious voters to the polls when a Democratic governor’s "tax the rich" platform ("it is class warfare, and we didn’t start it") was polling highly among voters (and defeated by a Republican state senate/house.)

    Kluwe did not, of course, convince right-wing football fans to vote against the ban. But he helped in the process that mobilized thousands of impassioned young volunteers, who went door-to-door and made cold call after cold call explaining that as gay people, they hoped someday to get married. As a result, Minnesota was the first state in the nation to defeat an anti-gay marriage referendum (which seemed like a hopeless cause when most of us signed up; it’s failed, like, 30 times before.) Fallout from that lost cause gaining strength also helped beat a voter-ID referendum, which had even crappier odds.

    The Vikings, of course, cut him as soon as they could. And, not being a dope, he signed with a Bay Area team. Kluwe was Grand Marshall of the Minneapolis Pride parade last weekend, and given standing ovations by the local LGBT community.

    Are you a better writer than he is? Certainly. Do you (and many others) deserve attention for your writing more than he does? No doubt. Should someone’s participation in a diseased celebrity-obsessed culture give them more of a public grandstand than others whose perspectives are based on years of observation and rumination? Hell, no.

    Kluwe willingly risked losing serious cash in his career to publicly support gay rights, when his job is about as homophobic (and opposed to political statements besides "supporting the troops") as there is. It’s worked out well for him so far, and he may become an asshole, but when his letter to that Maryland politician went viral he was the most disposable player on a team in a profession that disposes of players regularly. (If a superstar quarterback expressed similar views, they’d be safer.)

    As to the "welfare babies" comment: it’s unfortunate, but I think more amateurishly put than ill-intended. Many people do have babies mistakenly thinking that welfare provides better income than work (I see this daily in my slum apartment, and saw it daily when I did taxes and people were shocked to find out that "handouts" for the impoverished were all but nonexistent.) Many more are too injured or psychologically damaged to be capable of work, and will qualify for support to keep them from starving only if they have dependent children. Our society is broken, perhaps beyond repair.

    I didn’t read, in that "Salon" excerpt, Kluwe calling for cutting off welfare recipients; I read a call for community, the sense that we all do better if we live in a less dog-eat-dog nation.

    Is his repudiation of Rand as skilled as yours, or Thomas Frank’s in "Pity The Billionaire?" No-way, no-how. (And let’s hope that the future involves higher readership for the likes of those two Franks.) Kluwe is, however, not currently a bad guy. Not at all. A pro football player, in a state where the football team is king, choosing to side with gay people over his employers and a significant proportion of rural, insular fans who (mistakenly believe that they) don’t know any gay people?

    Not a jerk. Not by any lights. And, yes, before you mention it, economic equality is more important than identity politics. But I don’t think that’s what Kluwe’s saying in the Salon excerpt. He is, after all, an amateur.

  2. @JMF – I’m aware of his blogging the last few years. And I’m glad he’s not a bigot. But the main point stands that celebrity creates celebrity. And if you’re going to publish a book with a title a precious as [i]Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies[/i] you better be fucking David Foster Wallace.

    As for what he wrote, I think he’s hedging. That’s the main thing that I was reacting to. He claims to criticize Rand, but mostly agrees with her. Or at very least doesn’t want to anger any of her fans. Galt lacks a lot more than rational empathy. Like all Rand’s characters, Galt isn’t even fully rendered in two dimensions.

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