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Did Viking Chris Kluwe’s Deadspin letter help gay marriage supporters?

Chris Kluwe

Minnesota VikingsChris Kluwe

Few things give me more pleasure on Twitter than debating MPR’s Bob Collins. The day that Vikings punter Chris Kluwe’s scathing letter to a censorious Maryland legislator broke on Deadspin, Collins and I tussled over how the operatic profanity helped or hurt the message (see below).

As an un-objective observer (I’ve donated to Minnesotans United for All Familes, the Vote No people, and my wife does legal work for them), I reveled in what I called the “primal yawp” of outrage. Supporters have been on their best behavior, and Kluwe let off steam many of us built up seeing fellow Minnesotans’ freedoms on trial. Collins felt the swearing and general acting-out spoiled any chance of winning undecideds.

But what did the people tasked with defeating the marriage amendment — the “Vote No” organizers — think?

Coincidentally, I was at a Minnesotans United fundraiser two days after Kluwe’s blast that featured campaign manager Richard Carlbom. During the Q and A, I asked the first question: What did he think of the Kluwe piece?

(Note: Don’t invite me to fundraisers.)

I wasn’t taking notes, but Carlbom sounded conflicted, trapped between MnUnited’s disciplined, buttoned-down campaign and a full-throated supporter who’d garnered over a million unique page views and numerous mainstream media appearances yelling “lustful cockmonster.”

Strategy: respectful conversation to reach undecideds

“Our strategy at Minnesotans United is to encourage everybody to spark a respectful conversation to reach voters who haven’t made up their minds yet,” Carlbom told me in an interview the next day. “I think his letter was intended for the delegate from Maryland who was not on our side and never will be.”

Richard Carlbom

Richard Carlbom

Carlbom says Minnesotans United’s targets are “a narrow slice of Minnesotans who haven’t made up their minds yet and haven’t thought about it a lot.” (At the fundraiser, he called this group “conflicted.”)

He contends marriage amendment supporters’ strategy, especially in late-campaign ads, is to “create a combative environment in which people don’t listen. The other side wants to create an atmosphere that’s toxic, divisive and will make it harder for us to beat this amendment.”

But isn’t it combative and divisive to invoke “vitriolic hatred and bigotry,” as Kluwe did in his second sentence, asking male legislator Emmett Burns, “If gay marriage becomes legal, are you worried that all of a sudden you’ll start thinking about penis?”

Perhaps wishfully, Carlbom said, “Any time you are talking about the issue, any time conversations are taking place, generally people move in one direction, toward great freedom rather than limiting freedom. I assume sparking conversations are important, which will always lead to people voting no.”

The freedom emphasis

To me, one way Kluwe’s letter mirrored Minnesotans United was the freedom emphasis. The first two of three numbered points dealt less with gay marriage than freedom of speech. (Burns had asked the Baltimore Ravens to keep linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo from publicly supporting gay marriage).

This seemed perfectly aimed at some of the swing voters who gave Jesse Ventura the governorship, folks who find homosexuality icky but hate government more. (Even Rush Limbaugh didn’t rip Kluwe’s piece on these grounds.)

Said Carlbom, “It could be a net positive with independent voters who see freedom as freedom, that ‘love is bigger than government,’ to use of Jesse’s most famous lines.”

At the fundraiser, Carlbom acknowledged the gay marriage “base” found Kluwe’s letter thrilling. Even if the persuasion factor is in question, was there any objective evidence Kluwe had at least rallied the troops?

More people asking what they can do

While acknowledging it was a little hard to tease out the letter factor from the general late-campaign quickening, Carlbom said, “I can tell you this: During the weekend, it was the first time I had messages directly to my inbox asking what they could do to defeat this amendment. We had 2,100 volunteers participate during a weekend of action. In the last four days, we raised $78,000 in small contributions.”

I told Carlbom that I’d noticed a phenomenon I dubbed “viral polishing” — as Kluwe’s statement moved from Deadspin through social media to the mainstream media, the swearing issue faded and the deeper messages ascended.

“He’s an unexpected messenger,” Carlbom noted. “But the very busy people we need to target are not obsessing about [the issue] know an NFL player spoke out about freedom for gay and lesbian couples to marry — even if [in the piece], he didn’t really say ‘vote no.’ If that’s what they take away in their very busy lives, I think the letter is a net positive.”

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Dave Eldred on 09/11/2012 - 11:00 am.

    I appreciate this debate, but personally am of the mind that folks who are smart enough to think through a sensitive issue such are generally smart enought to know satire when they see it. Kluwe’s unedited letter ran on Deadspin, where the language he employed is de rigeour.

    When he discussed it in other areanas (PiPress, MSNBC, etc.), he of course cleaned up the tone, but the message was the same.

    I think the hand-wringing over the obscenities is unnecessary. He wrote for a certain crowd whom he knew would appreciate that language (whether they agreed with him or not). No different than anyone who tailors the delivery of a message for a specific crowd.

    One does wonder, however, if he hadn’t used strong (and funny) language in the Deadspin piece, if it ever would have caught any attention and brought new people into the conversation. I have serious doubts that it would have.

    In any event, I’m proud to cheer for a Viking who isn’t afraid to use his platform. And did you see the holds Kluwe had for Walsh’s big kicks?! Masterful!

  2. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 09/11/2012 - 11:01 am.

    Kluwe’s Barbaric Yawp

    In support of marriage equality was, in my estimation, a very honest, if colorful, statement of reality,

    as opposed to the ancient biases, prejudices and carefully-couched (and often unconscious) hatred and primal fear being expressed by so many on the other side.

    It also made me far more likely to watch some Vikings games this year.

    The attitude that any demonstration of care, concern, affection and friendship among players might get them labeled as homosexuals (using far less neutral terms) has been a primary barrier against team bonding, team work and team spirit ever since the “culture wars” were started.

    It’s hard to win games when the team’s philosophy on the field (and sometimes, even the coach’s) is “every man for himself” (which the Vikings along with many other teams have repeatedly demonstrated in recent years).

    Teams generally win far more games when each player is sufficiently close with, respectful of, and trusting of their fellow teammates that they “click” on the field, allowing their unconscious communication to enable them to rise above what they can do as individuals. They can only do that if they have the courage to care about each other with warmth and good humor and if they know the coaching staff cares about them in the same ways.

    I now have hope that, in this year’s Vikings, I might get to watch a group of men who have the courage to care about each other,…

    which will facilitate the bonds required for them,…

    to play as an actual TEAM,…

    while demonstrating the intelligence, courage and “heart” necessary,…

    to find a way to keep trying all the way to the end of every game,…

    and win games all the way to the end of the season.

  3. Submitted by Stan Daniels on 09/11/2012 - 09:25 pm.

    This is exactly what is wrong with politics today

    Kluwe in message was brilliant. He made some strong arguments for his feelings. Where he was wrong was with the profanity and tone of his argument. Passionate is one thing, Kluwe was another.

    Every day the US becomes even more divided. Now we will not only agree, but we’ll make it cool to disrespectfully disagree with the other side.

    The Maryland legislator was out of line and deserved a strong respectful reaction. Kluwe grandstanding didn’t help the cause — some anti gay marriage types will actually rally against Kluwe and his feelings because of the tone/language.

    Again – I have no problem with Kluwe’s right to freedom of speech and his main points are solid.

    Full disclosure, I am on the bubble on the amendment and have not decided my position. In this case, neither person helped me. My guess is I will end up in favor of gay marriage by the time I vote.

  4. Submitted by Dean Carlson on 09/12/2012 - 12:44 pm.

    Bob Collins reaction

    Bob Collins twitter “persona” is that of a cranky old man. (as reflected in his avatar). I think part of his reaction (which I know wasn’t the gist of your article) was in line with the way he reacts to anything via twitter.

    • Submitted by Emily Sojourn on 09/14/2012 - 10:52 am.


      Having worked with Bob Collins for almost 10 years, I can guarantee you that “cranky old man” isn’t just Bob’s Twitter persona. I like the dude, but he’s not happy unless he’s disagreeing with everyone. And in his rush to find fault, he’s creating something of a false issue. He’s implying that Chris Kluwe has huge pull on this topic — that if he’d cleaned up his language, he’d have some significant impact.

      I disagree. I think the impact will be small, but COULD be a significant stepping stone BECAUSE of the coarse language. Kluwe was speaking from a segment of society still largely not comfortable will supporting gays and lesbians. And by talking like that segment of society — using their vernacular as it were — (and let’s not kid ourselves that he-men athletes don’t talk like that) he’s giving some of those dudes permission to be okay with same sex marriage.

  5. Submitted by Dale Hoogeveen on 09/13/2012 - 06:04 am.

    Whatever… Kluwe’s note seems to have worked.

    Considering the venue the Kluwe post was pretty well written and effective, not something meant for church services, of course, but then he wasn’t in church then either. The state legislator backed down.,0,4310557.story

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