Chris Kluwe is an old-school kind of Raider. A rebel. A badass. A pirate swaggering boisterously.
He doesn't knock the shit out of receivers like Jack Tatum. Nor smack his head against the locker room wall before games like Phil Villapiano. Nor rip off and throw opponents' helmets like Lyle Alzado. Nor get dubbed by Sports Illustrated a "brawling, incorrigible miscreant" like John Matuszak.
What he does do is speak out, often and publicly, using his platform as an NFL player to promote the causes he believes in. But he is not just any NFL player -- he is a punter. And if the quarterback is the prom king, then the punter is the new kid in school with the rolly-backpack. Just kick the ball and let the football players do the talking, goes the refrain.
Yet Kluwe, who signed with the Silver and Black a couple weeks ago, has a swan dived into the most controversial of waters. During the NFL lockout, he chastised his fellow union members for their "greed." In a Tweet, he called Drew Brees and Peyton Manning "#douchebags." He wrote a screed on Deadspin, musing that "ALL OF US look like grasping, blackmailing, money-grubbing jerks whose only care is how much blood we can squeeze from the rock that is the fans -- you know, the people who ultimately pay all of our wages." And more recently, he's stepped up to become one of the sports world's most vocal gay rights activists.
So perhaps you can't blame someone for thinking that Kluwe's priorities lie somewhere other than the football field. But it's a criticism that Kluwe punted away last week: he turned down an invitation to the White House because it conflicted with the Raiders' training camp.
On Thursday, @ChrisWarcraft tweeted a picture of an invitation to a White House reception celebrating the LGBT Pride March on June 13. He wrote: "Lest anyone EVER question my commitment to a team that employs me, I present exhibit A. #focus, #SOFOCUSED."
Beside that invitation in the photo was Kluwe's email declining the it. "I would really, really, REALLY like to be there, but unfortunately not even the President of the United States is allowed to supersede an NFL mandatory mini-camp practice."
Below his signature, Kluwe added: "p.s. if you really wanted to, I'm sure I could make a late supper if an F35 were to pick me up at the field right after practice. Just saying
"p.p.s. Please don't do that. Then I'd be 'that guy' on the team. You know 'That' guy. (Plus it also seems an extremely unnecessary waste of taxpayer dollars.)"
His next tweet explained, "And no, I did not ask if I could skip practice. Mandatory minicamps are mandatory, and I'm here to help the team win. So it goes."
Kluwe's penchant for speaking his mind, many note, hasn't benefited his football career. When the Minnesota Vikings released him after last season, the blogosphere chattered with speculation that he had been booted for his activism.
Following Kluwe's tweets on the labor issues in 2011, former NFL tight end Nate Jackson, who has published work in the New York Times and on Slate, tore into him with a scathing "Dear Chris Kluwe" letter on Deadspin:
Punters are at the absolute bottom of the totem pole on an NFL roster, the very last man. If the team plane crashed on a deserted island, he'd be dinner as soon as the food ran out. Most of them know this and understand that it's in their best interest to keep quiet.
It's not surprising that Kluwe could be so out of touch. Punters live in a small, insulated bubble that no one else cares to enter. They are not included in the inside jokes and they're not invited to parties. Their lockers are tucked in a dark corner of the locker room, where they sit and read crime novels while the rest of the team watches film and learns a playbook that will be dead in a week, replaced by a new one.
The next day, Kluwe responded with a rhetorical hammer of a letter, highlighted by this stretch of fire:
You talk about me like I'm some kind of disease, like punters are some kind of infection that should be excised for the good of the game and how dare we raise our voices when our betters are talking. According to you, punters should be happy to sit in the corner and be treated like shit because we do something different, something that the other 54 members of the team can't do.
Wait, let's parse that last clause for just a second -- "something that the other 54 members of the team can't do." Huh. Would you look at that. Tell me, Nate, how well can you punt a football? What's that you say? You CAN'T punt a football?
Then why in fuck would you think that, just because I can punt, my opinion is somehow less valid?
In the two years since that exchange, Kluwe has only become more well-known, in large part because of his role as the NFL's de facto gay rights spokesperson (a role he has shared with former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo). Whether or not he's jeopardized his professional career with his activism, there's no question that Kluwe is, at the very least, the most recognizable punter in the league.
In September, Kluwe published another letter on Deadspin. This one was for Emmett C. Burns Jr., a Maryland state delegate who had asked the Ravens owner to silence to Ayanbadejo, to "inhibit such expressions from your employee."
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 (you may want to hire an intern to help you with the longer words).
He went on to address the First Amendment and Jackie Robinson, along the way dropping gems such as "They won't magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster" and "you can take your 'I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing' and shove it in your close-minded, totally lacking in empathy piehole and choke on it. Asshole."
So if the football gods are at all just, Kluwe will get another chance to visit the White House after the Raiders win the Super Bowl.