Former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe told the Washington Blade during a May 30 telephone interview that Michael Sam’s sexual orientation “definitely had something to do” with his low ranking in last month’s National Football League draft.
Kluwe — who is the grand marshal of this year’s Capital Pride parade — noted the Associated Press last year named Sam its 2013 Southeastern Conference co-defensive player of the year when he played for the University of Missouri. The outspoken punter who is now retired from the league said those with comparable rankings over the last decade have been drafted into the NFL no lower than during the second round.
“The only thing Michael Sam is is a first-round talent,” Kluwe says. “Michael Sam is definitely not a second-round talent.”
Sam had been projected to be drafted during the third or fourth round.
Observers noted his disappointing performance during the NFL scouting combine that took place shortly after he publicly came out during interviews with the New York Times and ESPN likely contributed to the St. Louis Rams choosing Sam during the seventh round.
Kluwe told the Blade that potential draftees who perform poorly during a combine may drop one and a half rounds — and not three as Sam did. He said the Rams choosing him so late in the draft is “an indication that there is something else going on there.”
“The only thing that is different about Michael Sam is his sexuality,” Kluwe says.
Sam coming out is a ‘brave step’
Kluwe says Sam did not seem “too nervous” about coming out when the two met during a dinner at the Los Angeles home of Howard Bragman, a gay Hollywood publicist, in February. The defensive lineman’s interviews with the New York Times and ESPN appeared the next day.
“It’s a brave step,” says Kluwe, noting Sam had been tipped to become the country’s first openly gay NFL player after coming out. “It’s great to see Michael be the one to do it.”
Kluwe told the Blade he hopes that Sam is “given a chance to succeed.”
“It’s tough to make it in the NFL and there’s so many plausible ways to get rid of someone,” Kluwe says. “I am hopeful that this is a situation where Mike is given a chance to show his talents, show if he can make it or not based on who he is as a football player, not who he is as defined by his sexuality.”
Kluwe also dismissed suggestions that Sam’s coming out has been too choreographed.
“There are a lot of people that pay attention to the NFL,” he told the Blade. “This isn’t like Pop Warner or little league. That just shows an understanding of the realities of the situation in that this is a historic moment.”
Kluwe added he feels using someone like Bragman allows Sam to “have ownership” and control over his message.
“You’re going to have to sit down and plan how this is going to go out,” Kluwe says. “That’s just reality.”
Kluwe: Vikings cut me because of marriage support
Kluwe, who played for the Vikings from 2005 until 2013, emerged as a prominent supporter of marriage rights for same-sex couples during the debate over a proposal that would have amended the Minnesota Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
“I don’t think discrimination should be enshrined in the state constitution,” Kluwe says. “I’m in a position to say something about it, so I should say something about it.”
Kluwe in 2012 sharply criticized Maryland state Del. Emmett Burns (D-Baltimore County) after he suggested then-Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo “should concentrate on football and steer clear of dividing the fan base” over the issue of gay nuptials ahead of a referendum on the same-sex marriage law that Gov. Martin O’Malley signed earlier in the year.
Kluwe said he initially found Burns’ comments against Ayanbadejo’s same-sex marriage advocacy as “kind of messed up.” He then proceeded to write a profanity-laced letter to the outgoing Maryland lawmaker who also voted against a transgender rights bill that O’Malley signed into law last month.
“Why do you care so much about what other people are doing with their lives?” says Kluwe, referring to Burns. “This isn’t going to affect your life in any way, shape or form. Why are you trying to tell other people that they can’t exercise their own free will? You’re essentially trying to take someone’s humanity away from them.”
Kluwe and Ayanbadejo — who guest edited the Blade’s sports issue last summer — in 2013 filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case that challenged California’s Proposition 8.
The former punter earlier this year claimed his advocacy in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples prompted the Vikings to cut him from the team.
The team — which has claimed Kluwe’s performance and salary contributed to the decision — launched an investigation into the allegations. Kluwe told the Blade he “definitely” still feels his activism on gay nuptials prompted the team to cut him.
“It’s something where institutionally I don’t think the NFL has a policy has a place against same-sex rights, but I think on an individual level, there are a significant portion of people in the NFL that don’t believe same-sex rights are something worthy of respect,” he says. “That’s something that needs to be changed.”
Reluctance to change Redskins name ‘so stupid’
Kluwe also said he would have “been fine” with a U.S. boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics that took place in Sochi, Russia, over the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record. He also sharply criticized Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder over his continued opposition to changing the team’s controversial name.
“Yeah, it’s going to cost some money in the short-term,” Kluwe says. “In the long-term do you want your children looking back at you saying, ‘Yeah, Dad, he was a racist, yeah he didn’t do the right thing.’ It’s so stupid.”