Skip to main content

An openly gay player in the NFL is not a distraction

By Chris Kluwe, Special to CNN
updated 2:13 PM EDT, Mon April 1, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chris Kluwe: Pro athletes are told all the time, "Don't be a distraction"
  • He says yes, focus on the game, but revealing your identity is not a distraction
  • Gay athletes shouldn't have to hide their personal lives, he says
  • Kluwe: It isn't right that we can't accept people for who they are

Editor's note: Chris Kluwe is a punter for the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League. He is an ambassador for Athlete Ally, an organization working to end homophobia in sports, as are Brendon Ayanbadejo of the Baltimore Ravens and Scott Fujita of the New Orleans Saints.

(CNN) -- "Don't be a distraction."

These words are pounded into every single NFL player's head from the day he enters the league until the day he leaves (and I would imagine it holds true for just about every professional sport).

The same message, over and over and over -- "The team comes first," "Sacrifice your personal goals to win," "Only be judged by what goes on between the lines" -- which is why I find it unsurprising that there are no openly gay athletes in any of the big four professional sports leagues in the U.S.: the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB.

Chris Kluwe
Chris Kluwe

The message is pushed on us so hard, in fact, that players run the very real risk of losing their jobs if the team deems them too much of a distraction, and unfortunately it seems gay players feel that being comfortable with who they are has to take second place to keeping their jobs.

This isn't right.

Swimmer Ian Thorpe, seen here in 2004 with one of his five Olympic gold medals, told an Australian news outlet that he is gay in an interview that aired on Sunday, July 13. Click through to see other openly gay athletes. Swimmer Ian Thorpe, seen here in 2004 with one of his five Olympic gold medals, told an Australian news outlet that he is gay in an interview that aired on Sunday, July 13. Click through to see other openly gay athletes.
Openly gay athletes
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: Openly gay athletes Photos: Openly gay athletes

It's not right that professional sports, and especially the professional sports media, have created an environment where gay players are willing to hide essential components of themselves as human beings in order to pursue their dreams, in order to not be a distraction. It's not right that our insatiable lust for sports coverage creates an atmosphere where someone would willingly subordinate his life to a backward and bigoted worldview in order to stay employed.

Video: Former NFL player comes out

It's not right that we can't just accept someone for who he is.

Former NFL player comes out

Why?

Why do people care so much about someone else's sexuality? Why do people give two s***s how someone else lives his life? Why do people have this absolutely idiotic notion that being gay has any sort of effect on how well a player can play football, or basketball, or baseball? Why the f*** do I even have to write this column for a major news organization to talk about something that shouldn't even remotely be a factor in sports?

Well, the reason is simple. I'm writing this because no gay player is currently out, and the first gay player who eventually does come out needs to know that -- despite all the indoctrination from the league about not being a distraction -- if he's the one to take the first step, he will have allies. He will have support. He will have those of us who realize that people's sexuality doesn't define who they are, just as their jobs don't define who they are, and that guys who bring our wives and children to games and team events are no different than those who would bring their husbands and children.

Most importantly, I'm writing this so that coaches, managers, players, owners and fans realize that the first gay player who comes out won't spontaneously cause rainbows to erupt out of everyone's rear.

Chris Kluwe, #5 of the Minnesota Vikings, punts the ball during a game against the San Francisco 49ers.
Chris Kluwe, #5 of the Minnesota Vikings, punts the ball during a game against the San Francisco 49ers.

In professional sports, the players on a team are a team. We eat together. We practice together. We watch film together, and we succeed or fail together. We see each other more than our own families during the season. To think that a gay player is suddenly going to destroy all that because he's out is asinine.

The idea that a gay player will be a distraction needs to change.

Coaches, administrative personnel -- will an openly gay player bring extra attention? Maybe, but guess what -- there's a whole bunch of other crap that happens during the season every year, anything from sexting to arrests to profane letters, and somehow we've managed to find a way through it each time without the entire edifice of football collapsing into ruin.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Instead of looking at an openly gay player as a distraction, ask yourselves -- how much better would that player play if he didn't have to worry about hiding a core part of who he is? How many more sacks would he have, free of that pressure? How many more receptions? How many more rushing yards?

Fans, media -- will an openly gay player be a distraction? Only if you make it one. Only if you insist on denying someone the freedom to live his own life on his own terms, instead of under someone else's control. Stop worrying about who a player dates; worry about his completion percentage, or tackles for loss, or return average. I can promise you, on Sundays the only thing he's worried about is lining up and doing his job to the best of his ability, or else he's going to be cut (just like any of us).

Players -- Those of you worried about a gay teammate checking out your ass in the shower, or hitting on you in the steam room, or bringing too much attention to the team -- I have four simple words for you. Grow the f*** up. This is our job, we are adults, so would you kindly act like one?

There are millions of people across America who work with gay co-workers every day, and they handle their business without riotous orgies consuming the work environment. In the extremely unlikely event that a gay player harasses you? We have an HR department. File a complaint, just the way a female employee would if you harassed her. If the media want to ask you about a gay teammate? He's a teammate, and you're focused on winning -- together. As a team.

And finally, to the gay player who does eventually come out, whoever that brave individual happens to be -- will you have to deal with media attention, with heightened scrutiny? Yes. Despite everything Brendon, Scott, myself, and all your other allies do, despite all the articles we write and interviews we give, despite the growing acceptance across this entire country, there are going to be people who insist on looking at you through the lens of your sexuality, and not at your skills as a football player. But you know what? All of us understand the truth.

You are a teammate, a friend, and you do not have to sacrifice who you are for the team to win, no matter what anyone else says.

You are not a distraction.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Chris Kluwe.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT