'Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies': NFL punter Chris Kluwe sounds off

'On Myths, Morons, Free Speech, Football and Assorted Absurdities'

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Chris Kluwe is a fairly normal 31-year-old guy. He loves reading and playing video games. He has a wife and two daughters. He plays bass in an alternative rock band. He's passionate about social issues and doesn't understand why anyone would want to deny basic civil rights to anyone else.

He's worried about humanity's future, and -- at least for now -- he's holding down a job. He's interesting, but probably not nearly as interesting as he thinks he is. By these standards, Mr. Kluwe couldn't be a more typical member of Generation Y.


By Chris Kluwe
Little, Brown & Co. ($27).

But three things set him apart from nearly everyone else in his demographic: Chris Kluwe plays professional football, he can write legitimately above grade level, and he's not afraid to voice his opinion. Mix those together and you get a genuine iconoclast.

Mr. Kluwe first garnered significant nonfootball attention last September when he wrote a scathingly profane open letter to a Maryland state assembly delegate for being critical of Baltimore Ravens' linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo's public support of same-sex marriage.

Since then, he's been one of the most outspoken champions of gay rights in professional sports, which many suspect was the reason the Minnesota Vikings released him in May. Mr. Kluwe has since signed with the Oakland Raiders and is competing for a roster spot with second-year punter Marquette King. Answering detractors who say his activism has distracted him from football, Mr. Kluwe turned down an invitation to appear in an LGBT pride reception at the White House, citing his need to attend a mandatory Raiders mini-camp.

Mr. Kluwe's first book, "Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies," offers a series of short essays, lists, letters and parables on the things stirring about in his obviously crowded mind. He makes repeated pleas for people to treat each other with decency, empathy and respect and deconstructs arguments against gay rights with logic, reason and endearingly creative profanity.

Mr. Kluwe meditates on philosophical questions about human nature, morality and the social contract. He ponders the benefits and tragedies of the Internet. He glimpses into alternate realities with the illustrative gusto of a lifelong fantasy and science fiction reader, and he sometimes blurs the line -- as is the case with a particularly far-fetched missive on how humans should go about mining asteroids for minerals and colonizing the moons of Saturn.

Those looking for inside dirt on the NFL won't find much in "Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies." Mr. Kluwe acknowledges his love for the game, but also that it's dangerously violent. In doing so, he does provide insight into to the hyper-competitiveness that permeates the players' collective psyche, his own included.

Despite repeating himself fairly often and making very little effort to hide the incredibly high opinion he has of himself -- he dedicates an entirely unironic essay to himself as his own hero -- Mr. Kluwe's writing makes for an entertaining read. He's as adept at the art of the take-down as the snarkiest sports bloggers, but he is capable of toning it down when he has to -- an open letter to the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court culled from the amicus brief he and Mr. Ayanbadejo filed in the case of Hollingsworth v. Perry, which challenges California's Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage, has its own chapter and is masterfully done.

Part of Mr. Kluwe's allure is that athletes seldom have interesting things to say. Not only is he an exception, but his words present compelling arguments on myriad deep and unsolvable, yet relentlessly fascinating problems.

In an industry that's visibly more concerned with growing and preserving its market share than it is with taking a stance on any moral issue -- recall Michael Jordan's "Republicans buy shoes, too," comment -- Mr. Kluwe provides a necessary kick to the head, strong enough to snap anyone out of a trance induced by hours of commercials for watery beer and gas-guzzling trucks.


Matthew Wein (wein.matthew@gmail.com) is a writer based in Pittsburgh. He works as the development news editor for Pop City Media and runs Free Tank Carter, a Pittsburgh sports blog.


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