The Vikings maintain that Chris Kluwe's off-the-field views had nothing to do with the drafting of…
Holler: Stormy days ahead at punter
I didn't inherit that "skill" – I've asked doctors about it and got some pretty convincing evidence that people who damaged body parts due to hard physical labor to make a living can feel a change in weather in their afflicted area – be it a knee, a back, a shoulder or a neck – before the rest of us. There is some medical credence to Grandpa's claim of being able to feel a change in the air before the change actually came.
Rarely do I get the sensation akin to Grandpa's meteorological clairvoyance, but my knee has been acting up since about mid-afternoon Saturday and it's only getting worse. The Vikings are going to be in a storm soon. The clouds are bubbling on the horizon.
Nobody seemed to put up much of a stink a year ago when the Vikings drafted Blair Walsh. With the kickoff line being moved forward five yards in 2011, Ryan Longwell ranked near the bottom of the league in touchbacks and, as the story goes, the Vikings wanted to upgrade the kicking game with a younger player who would cost less money. It made sense. They took the rare plunge into drafting a kicker – taking Walsh in the sixth round. To many, it signaled the end of Longwell's tenure with the Vikings. A week after the draft, the team confirmed those suspicions and Longwell was sent packing.
While there was some surprise at the swift nature of the decision to cut Longwell, it was written off as part of the game – the business of football. There was no backlash.
A year later, the Vikings drafted punter Jeff Locke in the fifth round of last weekend's draft. The natural sentiment, given the lightning-fast decision to cut ties with Longwell in favor of a sixth-round pick, is that Chris Kluwe's days are numbered.
It was about that time that my knee started acting up and clouds started gathering over the Rockies.
A year ago, when questions were posed about whether the drafting of Walsh spelled the end of Longwell in purple, Rick Spielman fielded the questions by saying a competition would take place. That competition didn't require Longwell's attendance. Walsh showed the coaching staff enough during the rookie minicamp that Longwell was released and Walsh went to Mankato three months later unchallenged for his spot.
In Spielman's first press conference following the Locke selection, he was asked about Kluwe's future. He wasn't asked whether he felt Locke was a clearly better option. Spielman was asked if the drafting of Locke was based more on Kluwe's outspoken advocacy of issues like same-sex marriage and becoming the NFL poster boy for free speech.
From my side of things, the question was moot. Even if drafting Locke was solely a way to justify dumping Kluwe and it was well-thought out and fully intended (as opposed to "no intent," as spoken prior to the trade of Percy Harvin), there's no way Spielman would admit that was the reason. That only happens in old-time TV shows like Perry Mason, where the murderer fesses up when baited by the attorney – "Yeah, I did it, see. And I'd do it again!" Whether Spielman would crack like a thin-shelled egg and make a Winter Park Confession or not, it was the unspoken opinion of perhaps 100 percent of the people in the room at the time that Kluwe's job would soon belong to Locke.
What will make the Kluwe story so significant in the coming days, weeks and/or months is that he has become the man in the spotlight of the same-sex marriage for his public stance on any two people getting married, not two people determined by mandates from the state and federal governments of the United States. To some, he comes off as a patriot – a visible spokesman for a just cause. After all, love is love whether others agree with it or not. The problem is that Kluwe has become so visible that it can be argued that the Vikings did draft Locke simply to rid themselves of a non-conformist.
There's no arguing – Kluwe will admit it – that he marches to his own beat. He prefers it that way. In a sport that is almost based on the regimented war-like atmosphere of players willing to play injured to help their platoon win on Sunday, those who march out of step tend to stand out.
In a game based on bravado and machismo, to have a player on the cover of Out! magazine would have seemed inconceivable just 10 years ago. Whether intended or not, Kluwe became the one of the key public faces of the movement. He has made multiple television appearances, been the subject of hundreds of newspaper and magazine stories and has become an Internet sensation. The same-sex marriage issue needed to throw a spotlight on someone to get attention and open the lines of communication for public debate on the merits of the issue. Kluwe, whether by default or groundswell, became that spokesman.
Kluwe was a staple of the Internet blogosphere long before he "hit the big time." He is, by nature, opinionated. The problem is that when someone has a markedly differing opinion to his, he has a well-documented history of savaging those who don't respect his opinion – often dropping F-bombs and other cleverly disparaging remarks along the way to fight back at those who hold a vastly different view on subjects he feels strongly about.
If the Vikings do release Kluwe, there will be a significant segment of the population that will believe it was his advocacy of same-sex marriage that resulted in his release. His "I Have a Dream" manifesto that went out Monday on the Huffington Post website only solidifies the resolve of those who will construe the eventual release of Kluwe as pre-determined and pre-ordained. Then the blogs will hit the fan.
My knee is throbbing. The clouds are gathering. Somewhere Grandpa is smiling. Get your umbrellas ready, kids. It's going to be a dark and stormy night.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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