@16: Vikings punter Chris Kluwe talks about life as a teen

How many NFL punters can also claim the title of Salon’s “Sexiest Man of 2012?” Only one: Chris Kluwe.
Photo By: Star Tribune, reprinted with permission
“You can’t label someone without putting them into a box that doesn’t encompass everything that they are."

Three self-described “nerds” are clustered around a glowing computer screen, riveted as the display lights up with flashy colors and images. Just another video game marathon inside a teen household, right?

Fast-forward to today when that same youthful spirit of competition finds its way into Chris Kluwe’s suburban Minneapolis living room. Yes, he has to get the juices flowing for his day job as the Minnesota Vikings star punter. But if you saw his giant laptop gaming screen – “a treat to myself,” Kluwe said with a smile – you’d also know how seriously he takes his unpaid profession.

Then again, his Twitter handle is @ChrisWarcraft for a reason.

“To me, it’s those various parts of my life that make me a complete person. Parts of a whole, a whole that defines me,” Kluwe said. “So part of who I am is that I read a lot of books and play video games. I love those parts of my life. And yes, I also happen to play sports. And yes, now I have a family. It’s those complexities that make us who we are.”

Being comfortable in dual worlds might have seemed impossible given the natural clash between nerd and jock social cliques. But for the California native, confidence was never an issue as a teenager. No matter the adolescent crisis, even at 16, Kluwe said he always focused on the big picture.

“Everything in the moment always seems so important. So life and death,” Kluwe said of high school drama. “Will this really affect me in four years? If not, then why worry about it?”

Simple enough.

Achieving success in the National Football League meant pushing himself “to be the best at something if you’re going to do it.” Originally a soccer standout, Kluwe figured his skills would translate to kicking a football. After he received high praise at a camp run by ex-NFL players, Kluwe determined that punting was “the easiest way to make a living” and put hours into perfecting the precise craft.

“For me, it was always about taking things one day at a time. I approached every football game as doing the best I possibly could at that particular moment. It was never about my future or my past. I never thought about where (punting) would take me. It was more about, ‘What can I accomplish right now?’ And I went out and did it,” said Kluwe, who played at UCLA during college.

“I was always very practical about it. I had to punt during football practice, so that’s where I took it really seriously. I figured, hey, I had to be there anyway, so I might as well maximize my time as best as I possibly could. That’s where I put the work in. I still had plenty of opportunities to hang out with friends, work out and do all the things I wanted.”

Reaching for lofty goals also came with a push from his parents, but only because not getting him off the couch would have meant “days of nothing but playing video games,” Kluwe joked. (For the record, when a new game comes out now, he’s still known to go on all-day binges.)

Kluwe was his own motivating force. He admits to being highly competitive, a personality trait that has since spilled into social activism, blog writing, hardcore gaming and bass playing with his hard rock band, Tripping Icarus.

He even learned to hone his writing skills by “trolling” on video game message boards. Pushing those buttons still works for him as an active presence on Twitter and while sticking up for gay marriage – Kluwe was Minnesota’s most visible celebrity face for the “Vote No” movement – or former Oakland Raiders punter Ray Guy’s NFL Hall of Fame credentials in a scathing Deadspin editorial.

As he explained his writing these days, “I say what I want, and I guess people listen.”

“For me, it goes back to always doing something to the best of your ability. If I can do that while also having fun? I’m finding myself in more and more of those situations,” Kluwe said. “It’s me basically giving everything I have into what I’m doing at the moment. That’s who I am.”

He also attributes his success to the Golden Rule. It’s why he viewed the Minnesota marriage amendment as an “issue of basic human freedom” that needed outspoken advocates.

“You can’t label someone without putting them into a box that doesn’t encompass everything that they are,” Kluwe said.

“Hopefully people I went to high school with would say I was a good person. I always tried to do the right thing. Treat others as I would want to be treated in return. That model of empathy and tolerance is what I always strived for.”

But there is more to overcoming challenges and achieving goals than a few simple rules. Kluwe remembers the hormones, urges and pressures of being a 16-year-old student. It’s why he always comes back to the trick that he used in high school — breaking issues into smaller pieces to focus on them easier.

When he’s punting inside an NFL stadium on Sundays, Kluwe is completely focused on football. But during his free time, he’s able to forget the professional spotlight and go back to being a husband, father, bassist, blogger, gamer … the list goes on and on.

“The fact is, people take each other way too seriously at times. If you can’t laugh at yourself, I mean, really …” Kluwe said. “There’s so much that’s ludicrous about life. I mean, look around you at the absurdity of life. This planet, it’s like, .000001 percent of the universe. We’re such a miniscule amount of what’s out there. So it’s almost ridiculous to even think we’re here in the first place. You really have to laugh at the world around you.

“So I always think about that, how we’re all human beings, random people on this planet. Yes, I may be good at kicking a football. But there’s a lot I’m not good at. There’s stuff that others are really good at and should get attention for. So when I think about life that way, I have a hard time taking myself too seriously.”

— Additional reporting by Thomas Rozwadowski


This marks the first installment of ThreeSixty’s @16 series, where our teen writers interview Minnesota newsmakers and celebrities about life as a 16-year-old high school student. Who should we talk to next? E-mail thomas.rozwadowski@stthomas.edu with your suggestions.