Rare is it that professional athletes are able to affect the kind of sociocultural movement getting under way in Minnesota and across the country.
That it's an NFL punter doing this makes the whole thing even more remarkable.
In case you missed it, Vikings punter Chris Kluwe has established himself as the Most Valuable Athlete of Election Day, showing the kind of public social backbone rarely exhibited by pro athletes who find themselves wary of expressing anything resembling a tangible opinion on a controversial subject.
What Kluwe has done for gay rights on a local and national level is staggering. Rather than express his support privately, Kluwe has spoken and spoken loudly about his open support of same-sex marriage, a subject that has long been considered taboo in locker rooms.
His support is pivotal on both the local and national levels.
On Tuesday, Minnesotans will vote on a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would legally define marriage as being between a man and a woman. If passed, the amendment would have a devastating impact on the lives of the thousands of gay couples throughout the state seeking equal legal footing with their straight counterparts.
Athletes have the kind of platform to speak their minds most of us only dream of. Kluwe, who is himself straight and married to a woman, has used his pulpit to promote equal rights for gay people, something he's passionate about. His open encouragement of a "no" vote on the amendment has given the previously disenfranchised a fighting chance and a public face with the kind of resonating voice they've lacked. Regardless of whether Minnesotans agreed with him, Kluwe's stance brought the issue to the forefront and likely will bring more voters to the polls as a direct result.
He's also not afraid to back up his words with actions. Kluwe recently publicly quit his popular blog on the St. Paul Pioneer Press' website after the newspaper essentially endorsed the adoption of the amendment in an editorial despite claiming to be neutral, something he perceived as an act of deception on the newspaper's part.
On the national level, Kluwe's open support of a previously taboo subject has had greater ramifications.
His willingness to become the face of a broader social change in professional athletics is noteworthy. For generations, homosexuality and the support of it have been verboten in sports. Kluwe's words and the public support he's received are showing that the culture in stadiums is starting to evolve along with our society.
Now conversations on gay marriage and equal rights are being had in places where they might not otherwise take place. For that, Kluwe should be lauded as someone who used his spotlight to serve as a role model for Americans both gay and straight as someone who is willing to stand up where others might back down.
Kluwe may never win an NFL MVP award. He is a punter, after all. But on Tuesday, he is a landslide choice for Most Valuable Athlete of Election Day 2012.
Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor.
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