Some in the media have reported that if not for being outspoken in his social positions, such as same-sex marriage, punter Chris Kluwe may not have been cut by the Minnesota Vikings. Or at the very least it was a factor in their decision.
However, shouldn’t there be proof beyond a reasonable doubt before convicting Minnesota of a politically incorrect crime?
The evidence doesn’t support the argument that Kluwe was cut for non-football related reasons. Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com documents this very well, here. Assuming the action was taken for football reasons than speaking out on issues should not be a get out of being cut free card.
For the sake of argument though, let’s assume that Kluwe’s advocacy was part or all of the reason he was cut. While not encouraging cutting Kluwe, I would still defend the Viking’s right to do so.
I think Fox Sports Jen Floyd Angel is off target when she says, “We say we want athletes to take stands and have opinions, but this is a lie.”
What “we” say is, we like it when athletes, when speaking about their sport, don’t just spit out clichés like, we have to take it one game at a time. We are not sitting around the dinner table wondering what New York Giant Guard, Chris Snee thinks about when are we going to get out of Afghanistan.
Sports and entertainment provide a much-needed distraction from everyday life. Work issues, family, politics, money, and survival; the attack of stress from different directions sometimes seems endless. And in this media age of TV, internet, tablets, smartphones and apps, it gets harder and harder to escape from the reminders of all that weighs on us. For many, sport is the last sanctuary.
When athletes, like Chris Kluwe step outside of their box, like George Constanza said on an episode of Seinfeld, “it’s worlds colliding”. Except in this case it is the world of polarization colliding with the world of pleasure and escape. It is understandable why many fans would prefer to keep this space separate. It is understandable why a business like a sports franchise, would want to remain neutral. Their business is entertainment not advocating or arbitration of social issues.
Lest you think my opinion is biased by the issues Kluwe was speaking out about, for the record, I recently wrote a blog advocating for same-sex nuptials, here.
If an athlete or an entertainer wants to leave their career behind to pursue advocacy or politics, I have great respect for that. But I prefer when they don’t do both at the same time.
Some things are better left separate. For example, I don’t care what “Poppy’s”, the owner of a fine Italian restaurant, thinks about abortion (another Seinfeld reference). I don’t care about Sean Penn’s view on the late Hugo Chavez. And I don’t care about Chris Kluwe’s view on gun control.
When I enter the world of sports and entertainment I want to leave everything else behind. I want to immerse myself. Advocacy, whether I agree or disagree, takes me out of my immersion. It is an unwanted reminder and distraction of issues I spend plenty of time on otherwise.
Distractions are neutral in that the “good” ones, as well as the “bad”, can be detrimental to a team. So whether it is advocacy, trouble with the law, or an insanely polarizing back-up quarterback who doesn’t have the accuracy to play the position, you better be clearly better than your competition at the position. Because all things being close to equal, yes a team might choose a non-distraction over a distraction.
This is true not only for the business purpose of staying neutral to a fan base, but for the potential fracturing of a locker room that it can have. What if Kluwe has several religious teammates who strongly disagree with him on same-sex marriage? What if they decide to exercise their right to speak out?
A locker room fracturing can affect: team morale, wins and losses, jobs, playoffs, other people’s careers. It’s not what owners spend hundreds of millions of dollars to own a team for, and it is not why most fans devote hundreds or thousands of hours to follow them.
When the legendary boxer, Muhammad Ali, spoke out, he did it on his dime. He was an individual not playing a team sport. The costs and rewards were his to bear alone.
Given that potential disruption in a group dynamic, is it a surprise that a team would want to steer clear of it?
Given Kluwe’s statistics cited in the ESPN article I mention above, I think he was cut for football reasons. But if his outspokenness or social stances were any kind of factor, while I can respect his beliefs and principles, I can’t condemn the Vikings for it.
As for finding new work, let me ask you this; if you owned a business and had to pick between two potential employees, one who would draw extra attention to himself for non business reasons, make statements that would potentially alienate a significant percentage of your customers, and potentially divide the rest of your labor force. The other would show up and do his job. Who would you hire?
More often than not, that first guy would have to be clearly better than the second to have a chance. It’s not right, it’s not wrong, it’s the way it is.