If you haven’t seen the Deadspin piece penned by Chris Kluwe, former punter for the Minnesota Vikings and LGBT activist, go read. The short version of it is that Kluwe, while an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights, made every attempt to both comply with team rules and to not be the dreaded distraction in the locker room, but was harassed by a bigoted coach and eventually released at least partially because of his advocacy. This piece isn’t going to be so much about Kluwe as it will be about the NFL in general and how teams deal with distractions.
The average NFL career is 3.2 years (regardless of what the NFL tries to tell you). What that means is that for many NFL players, joblessness is a threat that’s constantly looming. And yet, at the same time, these players are told to concentrate on football. It’s all about football. Don’t be a distraction. Are you seeing conflicting messages there?
Chris Kluwe, if you are to believe the internet, dual majored in Political Science and History which makes his activism less one guy sounding off and more him laying the seeds for potential jobs post-football. But most NFL players don’t have the benefits of Kluwe’s degrees, his schooling (UCLA), or of being a well regarded and well known public figure with an (I assume) fairly high selling book. Most certainly don’t have the benefit of having enjoyed an eight year career. And that’s not an indictment of Kluwe, it’s just to illustrate that even a guy with a lot of good things going for him has to make plans for what he’s going to do when he’s out of football.
I think part of the problem is in how NFL teams define distraction, which seems to be “anything that’s not football.” (Except, you know, DUIs and stuff.) Certainly when you think of distractions, Tim Tebow comes to mind. (The particulars of his career aside…) Am I really supposed to be convinced that Tebow is really that divisive of a person in the locker room or that the extensive media coverage really has that much of an impact on a player’s or a team’s ability to play football? If your goal is to be good, and I have to assume that’s the goal of most teams, you wind up facing down the biggest media circus of them all anyway, the Super Bowl. I mean it’s not like media-crazy markets like New York and Los Angeles, and Boston, and Philadelphia are all hard up for sports championships in recent years. Maybe NFL teams should be less worried about blacklisting players that are distractions and more cognizant of which players can handle them.