By and large, if NFL punters are doing their jobs well, not many people will know who they are.
For the most part, that was true of Chris Kluwe.
Kluwe punted for the Minnesota Vikings between 2005 and 2012 and set eight team records during that time.
In the midst of being one of the best punters in the NFL, Kluwe was known as someone who enjoyed playing video games and making music.
He was also outspoken in his defense of same sex marriage and gay rights.
An avid reader and writer, Kluwe never missed a chance to defend the downtrodden and persecuted against politicians and his NFL peers.
Then, in the spring of 2013, Kluwe was released by the Vikings.
— Sportlobster USA (@SportlobsterUSA) August 19, 2014
Although the team said Kluwe’s release was due to poor performance, the punter believed it was due to his beliefs and he was forced out.
Unable to find another punting job, Kluwe has since become an avid writer and has released three books and a tabletop game.
This is the story of Chris Kluwe.
Christopher James Kluwe was born on December 24, 1981 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Not long after his birth, the Kluwe family moved to Los Alamitos, California.
Chris’ parents, Ronald and Sandy, were highly educated and raised their three children to think for themselves and defend their opinions during family discussions.
They also taught their kids to treat all people the same, no matter their station in life.
Kluwe started reading books avidly during elementary school and was a violin prodigy who could play by ear.
When he was in middle school, Kluwe’s grandmother, an aerospace engineer, took Chris on a two-week adventure to Antarctica.
It was also around that time that Ronald and Sandy decided to home school Chris for his eighth grade year, although Sandy made sure the curriculum was top notch.
“Shakespeare, the Federalist papers and Latin conjugations,” Chris said in 2012.
Blessed with a strong leg, Kluwe went out for the Los Alamitos High School football team as a freshman and became a kicker and punter.
He played on the varsity squad beginning in his sophomore year and never looked back.
Los Alamitos High School (Los Alamitos, CA)
— Prep2ProDB (@Prep2ProDB) December 29, 2021
Before his final year with the Griffins, Kluwe entered a national kicking competition and came away convinced his future would include the NFL.
“He came home one day from a kicking camp and said, ‘I’m going to get a scholarship to play football in college,’ ” Sandy Kluwe said, “ ‘and then I’m going to play in the N.F.L.’ Just like that.”
During a playoff game his senior year, Kluwe patiently waited through two attempts to ice him before a 60-yard field goal attempt.
Kluwe then set a county record by making the kick and sending the contest into overtime.
His overall stats as a kicker and punter were mind boggling.
As a prep player, he averaged 46.6 yards per punt and connected on 16 of 22 field goal attempts and converted 39 of 41 PATs.
For his efforts, Kluwe was named a first-team All-American punter by USA Today.
He also participated in the CaliFlorida Bowl and the California-Texas Shrine game (where he was responsible for the game-winner).
Not only was Kluwe a nationally renowned punter, he was a top-notch student who had a flawless verbal score on the SAT test and was pursued by Harvard.
However, Kluwe didn’t want to attend the prestigious school because of the low quality of the football team.
“When he got off the phone with the Harvard coach, he said: ‘Dad, I’ll be the second biggest guy on the Harvard team, and I’m the punter.’ And I said, ‘O.K. Chris, just let your mother know because I’m not that brave,’” said Ronald Kluwe.
Chris Kluwe then enrolled at UCLA and joined the Bruins football team as a punter.
Between 2000 (his redshirt year) and 2002, Kluwe punted all of two times.
In 2003, he finally became the starter for the Bruins and punted the ball 91 times for 3,908 yards and a 42.9 yards per punt average.
Both his number of punts and punt yardage set program records during UCLA’s 6-7 season.
The following year, he punted 61 times for 2,647 yards and a 43.4 yard average, good for 12th overall in the NCAA.
In the Las Vegas Bowl against Wyoming, Kluwe tied a bowl record with nine punts in the 24-21 loss.
Kluwe Sticks with Minnesota
Kluwe watched the 2005 NFL Draft hoping that a team would take him in the later rounds.
However, he went undrafted and was signed as a free agent by the Seattle Seahawks.
Seattle liked Kluwe’s ability well enough that the team cut their veteran punter in OTAs.
During the preseason, the Seahawks alternated Kluwe with newly signed veteran Tom Rouen and eventually went with Rouen.
Still, the team liked Kluwe and intended to keep him on the practice squad during the ‘05 season.
Per NFL rules, Seattle had to place him on the waiver wire for 24 hours before re-signing him to the practice squad.
Unfortunately for the Seahawks, the Minnesota Vikings swooped in less than a day later and signed Kluwe.
Chris Kluwe (2005-2012) pic.twitter.com/cxGzA4LGNm
— Random Vikings (@VikingsRandom) November 10, 2021
As the Vikings went 9-7 in 2005, Kluwe performed well and booted the pigskin 71 times for 3,130 yards and a 44.1 yards per punt average (second in the NFC).
Additionally, he was named NFC special teams player of the month in September.
That marked a first for a Minnesota rookie on special teams.
Even more remarkable, Kluwe sustained a torn ACL late in the season and continued to punt for the last three games of the year.
“My punter is a tough guy,” Vikings coach Mike Tice told the media.
The Vikings Extend Kluwe
After successful ACL surgery and a solid 2006 season (including a career-high 91 punts), Kluwe averaged 44.7 yards per punt in 2007 and then signed an $8.3 million extension through the 2013 season.
His new contract made Kluwe one of the top-10 highest paid punters in the NFL.
One year later, Kluwe posted a career-best average with 73 punts for 3,473 yards and a 47.6 yard average.
In 2011, Minnesota signed former Eagles and Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb.
The quarterback had always worn a uniform with the number 5, which happened to be Kluwe’s number.
Kluwe gave the number to McNabb as long as he mentioned Kluwe’s band, Tripping Icarus, at least five times in interviews, gave money to charity, and bought Kluwe an ice cream cone.
Chris Kluwe made a contract with Mcnabb for the #5 and at the end it said he wanted an ice cream cone. Smh so nutty
— Magik Huncho Chef 👨🏿🍳 (@kj_willis) August 1, 2011
That same year, Kluwe punted 77 times for a 45.7 yard average.
Kluwe Defends Brendon Ayanbadejo
By 2012, Kluwe was a fan favorite for his consistent punting and his proclivity for video games including Guitar Hero and World of Warcraft.
In the latter game, Kluwe donned an alter ego as a troll named Loate.
Before the ‘12 season began, Kluwe happened to stumble upon a story about a Maryland government official who wrote Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti.
The official asked Bisciotti to tell one of his Ravens players, Brendon Ayanbadejo, to stop advocating for same-sex marriage.
Maryland had a November referendum on the table for the proposed Civil Marriage Protection Act which would permit gay couples to get marriage licenses.
Brendon Ayanbadejo and Chris Kluwe are staunch advocates on many platforms. (more on website)https://t.co/MMcyahPO4M#brendonayanbadejo #chriskluwe #NFL #PrideMonth2021 #advocates #equality pic.twitter.com/NuNyL9XlUo
— OSDB (@OSDBSports) June 25, 2021
The official, Emmett C. Burns Jr, wrote to Bisciotti in part, “inhibit such expressions from your employee and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions.”
Kluwe couldn’t get the story out of his mind and decided to pen a letter to Burns.
The story was published on Deadspin and clearly displayed Kluwe’s disdain for Burns’ position.
“This is more a personal quibble of mine, but why do you hate freedom?” he wrote. “Why do you hate the fact that other people want a chance to live their lives and be happy, even though they may believe in something different than you, or act different than you? How does gay marriage, in any way shape or form, affect your life?”
Not long after Kluwe’s letter was published, Burns backpedaled and even Rush Limbaugh, the long-time conservative talk show host, lauded Kluwe’s writing.
“It was funny because it felt like a sign of the apocalypse that Rush Limbaugh and whoever it was from the far left end of the spectrum were both congratulating me. Are pigs flying overhead now?” commented Kluwe.
Throughout the year, Kluwe continued voicing his opinion about hot button topics and received both hate mail and comments encouraging him to keep up the fight.
“He’s the polar opposite of your stereotypical football player,” said Cullen Loeffler, the Vikings’ long snapper and Kluwe’s close friend.
Some NFL peers told Kluwe to keep his mouth shut while others respectfully disagreed with him but appreciated his stance.
“I had quite a few teammates come up to me and say: ‘We appreciate you speaking out in support of Brendon. We may not agree with you on that marriage issue, but at the same time everybody has got the right to speak,’” said Kluwe.
Minnesota Releases Kluwe
While he was writing about the issues of the day during the 2012 season, Kluwe had a bad game against Tampa Bay in Week 8.
Minnesota sprang into action and worked out a number of punters to replace Kluwe.
He kept his job and finished out the year with a 45 yards per punt average, the third-best average of his career.
Kluwe also found time to scold the NFL when he put a post-it note on his game uniform that read “Vote Ray Guy” in protest for the lack of punters in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
— InsideTheTwenty (@InsideTheTwenty) December 10, 2012
Kluwe was fined by the league, though Guy was inducted into the Hall in 2014.
After the season, Kluwe had surgery to repair a torn meniscus that he had been playing with since 2007.
Then, in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, the Vikings selected UCLA punter Jeff Locke.
“You generally don’t take a punter in the fifth round unless that’s the guy you want to go with,” Kluwe said after the draft.
A month later, Minnesota cut Kluwe after eight years with the team.
Kluwe ended his time with the franchise holding eight team records including career punt average (44.4), career playoff punt average (45.2), career punts inside the 20-yard line (198), and average punts per season (78).
Days after leaving the Vikings, Kluwe was signed by the Oakland Raiders, but was cut in early September.
He then officially retired in 2014 believing that his stance on same sex marriage effectively ended his NFL career.
Kluwe Unloads on the Vikings
Unable to stomach how he felt he was handled by Minnesota, Kluwe penned a first-person article about his release that was published by Deadspin on January 2, 2014.
The title of the article was, “I was an NFL Player Until I Was Fired by Two Cowards and a Bigot.”
— NOH8 Campaign (@NOH8Campaign) January 2, 2014
In the story, Kluwe discussed everything that happened to him during his final year with the Vikings.
He mentioned his stance against the Minnesota Gay Marriage Amendment that would have prohibited same sex marriage in the state.
Allegedly, Kluwe checked with Vikings management to see if he would be permitted to speak out against the proposed amendment and Kluwe said the team gave him its approval.
After his letter to Burns in defense of Ayanbadejo, he remarked that then-Vikings coach Leslie Frazier told Kluwe that he “needed to be quiet, and stop speaking out on this stuff.”
Kluwe’s article also said that Vikings owner Zygi Wilf took Kluwe aside before a game and commended him on his stance.
When the conversation was relayed to Frazier, the coach seemed to back down.
The article also mentioned how Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer consistently used homophobic “jokes” in front of Kluwe during meetings and also “jokingly” told Kluwe that he would “go to hell with the gays and that the only truth was Jesus Christ and the Bible.”
— Instinct Magazine (@instinctmag) January 3, 2014
Kluwe also shared how Priefer once said in a special teams meeting that, “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.”
Thereafter, the relationship between coach and player grew cold.
During an interview in December 2012, Priefer was asked about Kluwe’s “Vote Ray Guy” note on his uniform.
“I don’t even want to talk about it. Those distractions are getting old for me, to be honest with you,” said Priefer.
Kluwe closed the article by elaborating on how the coaching staff and team management kept him in the dark about his future and how he was released by the team.
Once Kluwe’s Deadspin article was made public, the Vikings immediately countered that the punter was cut due to his poor performance on the field.
In response to the article, an investigation was conducted by a former Minnesota Supreme Court judge into Kluwe’s allegations.
The investigation found confirmation by witnesses of homophobic remarks made by Vikings employees.
Priefer was suspended for three games in 2014 when it was found that his “nuke” comment was true.
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) August 7, 2014
Kluwe also sued the Vikings for wrongful termination but eventually settled when the team promised to make monetary donations to a number of gay rights and LGBT organizations.
Life in Retirement
Since leaving the NFL, Kluwe has continued to play video games, support various causes, and has written a number of books.
Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies was released in 2013 and Kluwe’s tabletop game Twilight of the Gods was released in 2017.
— Compete Sports Diversity (@competesports) January 21, 2013
He is also a contributing writer for a number of websites and is a co-author of a science fiction trilogy.
Kluwe and his wife, Isabel, have two daughters, and in 2017, he was hired to be the special teams coach at Edison High School in Huntington Beach, California.