NFL Player Chris Kluwe on Being a Libertarian

The Minnesota Vikings punter discusses libertarianism, anarchism, Ayn Rand, empathy, and what he'd change about the U.S. government.


In September, Minnesota Vikings Punter Chris Kluwe made the news for defending a fellow NFL player's activism in support of gay marriage. Maryland State Delegate Emmett C. Burns sent a letter to the owner of the Balitmore Ravens demanding he do something to stop linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo from speaking out in favor of allowing gay couples in the state to have their marriages legally recognized.

Kluwe's response, published at sports blog Deadspin, garnered quite a bit of public attention, mostly for his amusing turn of phrase in defense of his fellow athlete's right to speak, as well as in declaring his own support for gay marriage. "I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life," Kluwe wrote. "They won't come into your house and steal your children. They won't magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster."

Beyond that letter, Kluwe has been an outspoken supporter for gay issues on his own. He posed for gay magazine Out. In December he joined Athlete Ally, a nonprofit group devoted to pushing back against homophobia in sports, as an "ambassador."

He was profiled in November by OC Weekly, where he talked about his activism, as well as his love of all things considered nerdy, like science fiction and video games.

Kluwe also, while reluctant to use labels, described himself as a libertarian and said he was not a fan of President Barack Obama, nor Gov. Mitt Romney. Reason 24/7 Associate Editor Scott Shackford spoke with Kluwe by telephone about the extent of his libertarian philosophy, the November election, Ayn Rand, and the way American culture responds to celebrities and athletes wading into political discussions.

Reason: I had been following your activism on gay marriage since your infamous letter to Emmett Burns. I read your OC Weekly profile last month, and you were reluctant to label your politics. You said you're libertarian, but also said that doesn't quite sum it up. What makes you libertarian?

Chris Kluwe: For me personally it's the belief that I would like to be free to live my own life. There's the golden rule to treat other people the way you would want to be treated. That will solve a lot of the world's problems.

Reason: Why do you feel that even that libertarian label isn't complete?

Kluwe: I've never been a big fan of labels. It's hard to sum up a person with a single label. I say I lean toward the libertarian side. Some things I lean more liberal and some things I lean more conservative. But it's all about not taking the rights away from somebody else

Reason: After I posted on our blog about your interview, some of our commenters read it and described you as an anarchist. You do occasionally retweet some comments from Anonymous. Have you explored the various philosophical underpinnings of anarchism?

Kluwe: In an ideal society you don't need a government because everybody knows how to treat somebody else. Unfortunately we aren't going to reach that place for some time. The world I imagine is from the Culture Series by Iain M. Banks [a sci-fi book series taking place in a semi-anarchist utopian culture]. The fact that once you reach a post-scarcity economy, you have people realize what people want to do with their life doesn't affect me. You don't need a government to tell you what to do.

Reason: You tweeted recently that you had just read Atlas Shrugged. What did you think?

Kluwe: Not a huge fan. I like some of Rand's ideas. I think the core aspect she's missing is empathy. Without empathy you don't have stable society. What do you do when the real world intrudes? What do you do when there are earthquakes or disasters? If you don't have concern for the people around you, eventually society is going to collapse. I think that's one of Rand's flaws. She doesn't consider empathy to be a worthwhile trait.

Reason: It's interesting that you see empathy as an important trait for libertarian philosophy.

Kluwe: If you don't care for anybody else you're a sociopath. It's about finding what that level of safety net is without living off other people. If you truly want to live your life for yourself, then you wouldn't want to take somebody's labor, because you wouldn't want somebody to do that to you. Empathy isn't just about taking care of other people. It's also recognizing what your actions do to other people. I have to make sure I'm wary of what I'm doing.

Reason: Are you willing to say who you voted for as president?

Kluwe: Gary Johnson. I don't like any of the choices because our government is fundamentally flawed and won't change any time soon. The good thing about our government is that it is resistant to huge, sweeping changes. The bad thing about our government is that it is resistant to huge, sweeping changes. Our founding fathers relied on an educated voter system. Our laws are now being written for corporations and organizations, not for people. A corporation is not a person. It's a collection of people, but has no value on its own.

Take the Libor banking scandal. These banks laundered billions of money. If a person did that, they'd go to jail. Because it's not a person, it's fines instead. Bernie Madoff got life in prison.

Reason: There is an interesting cultural tension whenever somebody like an athlete, celebrity, or a rock star speaks out on political issues. They get a lot of attention, but they also get a lot of backlash. You yourself got attention for defending another athlete's right to speak out to defend gay marriage. Do you feel as though there are particular obligations or hazards to being outspoken about politics when you're not a member of the political or media classes?

Kluwe: I think that goes back to the label thing. It shouldn't matter what your job is. What should matter is who you are as a human being. Your job has no bearing on who you are.

Reason: But in your case, you have more of a megaphone for your voice because of who you are.

Kluwe: The way I approach life is that everyone should have an equal voice. That I have a larger voice shows what our society values. Society values entertainment over education.

Reason: Right now, Vikings Special Teams Coach Mike Priefer would prefer you focus on your punting and less on your politics. What do you say when you're told that your discussion of political issues is a distraction from doing your job well?

Kluwe: This is who I am, that's who I'm always going to be. I'm totally cognizant that the NFL is a business. If I don't perform on Sunday they're going to cut me. When I'm at the facility, I'm focusing on football. If I'm not at the facility, it's my own life. If I don't have to think about my job, I shouldn't have to.

Reason: If you were in a position to make decisions about how American politics operate, what would you change?

Kluwe: There's several things. First would be getting money out of politics. The business of buying politicians and buying votes is way too widespread. Donors are giving huge amount of money to people creating policy. Business deserves a vote in government because they're part of it, but there needs to be a limit. I would limit donations to about $100,000 per campaign and only allow only six weeks for campaigning running up to the election.

Term limits on congressmen. We have these people who are basically institutionalized. When we were founded, public service was a service. You took time away from your life. Now it's a job. That's not what stable government is about.

Limit lobbying. As new people are filtered in because of term limits lobbyists have more power. And we need a waiting period between serving Congress and becoming a lobbyist. These guys make these laws and pass bills and then three months later they're working for these same groups.

Make the tax code a lot simpler, which is easier said than done. When you pay your taxes, 50 percent should go to the government for its use and the other 50 percent can be allocated in a couple of different areas. Then they won't have to throw pork in bills. People will be telling you what your money will be spent on. It gives people more of a voice. People complain "I pay my taxes but I have no say in what my government does with it."