Every once in a while, that rare athlete comes along — Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, Jim Bouton, Tommie Smith/John Carlos come immediately to mind — who unabashedly uses his high-visibility platform to further causes far beyond sport.
And they have done so at their own peril. The typical reward for defying the sacred convention of athlete-as-benign-idol was scorn. We like our athletes seen and not heard, especially when it comes to politics (exception for snagging public stadium money noted).
Chris Kluwe is the latest to pay that price for following his conscience. The middling good punter (and the gap to greatness in that specialized talent is barely perceptible) was summarily cut from the Vikings last month — at least in part for kicking that convention as squarely in the pants as surely as he does a football. Kluwe was not the most talented athlete to pass through these sports hinterlands, but he had arguably been the most interesting. And so is his new book, “Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies.”
The same skeptic who regards the assertion by the Vikings that Kluwe’s departure had nothing to do with his vocal advocacy as a whopper, even by professional sports team standards, might also believe that this book was likely one of the last of the straws that sent Kluwe packing. The corporately-correct Vikings would not have been pleased.
To Kluwe’s Twitter fans, the essays in this collection will have a familiar bent. His 140-character bursts often blend hilarity with rage: “Any idea how Exxon plans to clean up if a tornado hits Arkansas? Throw a bunch of paper towels into the wind?” Just plain rage: “Attention MN legislature: ‘Separate but equal’ was disproved as a valid government doctrine, oh, almost 50 years ago. Do you history?” Or just plain hilarity: “Having photos taken of me while I ride a carousel horse in the driveway. Oh hi new neighbors! Good to meet you!”
And the book extends that. Topics span the familiar — there are several on, yes, gay marriage and equal rights — to the obscure: particle physics, augmented reality and video game character references and are full of parenthetical phrases that perhaps reflect both a frenetic video gamer’s attention span and the wide range of the wondrous wanderings of what is an active and lively mind. It’s smart, funny, irritating, incisive, at times chaotic, but always thought-provoking.
At his best, Kluwe also reveals a bit more about himself: fatherhood, relationships and life as a professional football player, which he seems to both appreciate and disdain.
Kluwe proves himself to be, indeed, a man for all seasons — not just football season.
Jim Anderson is a reporter at the Star Tribune.