Okay, NFL punter Chris Kluwe. You may have gone too far this time. Yeah, you’ve called out clueless Hall of Fame voters for failing to honor the great Ray Guy, and made lots of folks already uncomfortable with same-sex marriage even more uneasy with all your talk about social justice and what not. But, sheesh! Now you’ve entered into some truly heinous territory appearing to question the creative omnipotence of Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin.
It's early May and Kirkus is chatting with the former Minnesota Vikings star just prior to his successful try-out with the Oakland Raiders, and ahead of the publication of Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies: On Myths, Morons, Free Speech, Football, and Assorted Absurdities, Kluwe's first book, when the conversation turns to “laser beams and magic fireballs” and how the best sci-fi and fantasy echo events rooted in actual history.
“I think that one of my favorite examples currently is the fact that George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones is so wildly popular, and so few people realize that it’s essentially the War of the Roses,” Kluwe says. “It’s this great historical story that all of a sudden has a little bit of magic and dragons, and people are just eating it up.”
The veteran NFL player and new author rattles off a list of some of the scribes who have helped his own writing – Terry Pratchett (“I’ve read everything by him”), Iain Banks (“huge fan”), David Weber (“more for the space opera type of stuff”), Charles Stross (“his future stuff”), William Gibson (“obviously”) and Neal Stephenson (“his stuff is really good”).
“I actually came to [Kurt] Vonnegut kind of late,” Kluwe says. “I started reading him last year, and then immediately just devoured all of his books. I’ve found that reading lots of books makes it much easier to write because you can steal from all your favorite authors. Essentially, any sort of story that has good writing and a message underneath that you can kind of tease out is probably something that I’ll be interested in.”
Not surprisingly, Kluwe’s debut effort is a biting and often funny collection of essays, letters, stories and poems that reflect his passion for social justice, as well as his love of science-fiction and fantasy. All of them contain his outspoken voice.
“I know that there are certain positions that I take that I know people will probably not agree with,” Kluwe says. “But at the same time, every position that I take is underlined by the fundamental philosophy that I live by, which is treat other people the way you’d like to be treated. I call out hypocrisy. I call out people who are lying – either to themselves or others – because any world that doesn’t have empathy, that’s when you run into problems. If people are unable to put themselves into someone else’s shoes, then you start fostering conflict and discord.”
That very theme lies at the heart of the original science-fiction trilogy Kluwe is now busy crafting when not braving an onslaught of tacklers or keeping tabs on two small daughters.
“Essentially, as society has spread throughout the solar system and beyond, the government has been using bio-hacking in order to take over new planets,” the author explains about the trilogy. “But no one really knows, because no one cares to ask. It’s a bit of a look at our modern culture, where in America, we take all of these things for granted. We have wealth and plenty, we have everything that we want - but we don’t ask how we got them.”
As an elite athlete, Kluwe is fully cognizant of how he’s managed to secure the lifestyle he and his family enjoy. While writing is now part of his life, the 31-year-old hopes to play pro football for another six or seven years – and possibly more.
“My body is still in pretty good shape,” he says. “Most punters retire around 37, 38, so, that would put me right on track for that.”
No matter what the future holds, the one thing Kluwe will not be doing is curbing his views – even if some in pro football consider that a “distraction.”
“That’s my life away from football,” he says. “It’s not something I’m ever going to bring into the locker room. But at the same time, I’m not going to spend 24-hours-a-day just being solely football because that’s nuts. When I’m there, I’m 100% there. To me, it’s unfortunate that a team would consider speaking out on human rights and social issues more of a distraction than guys getting arrested for stuff.”
Whether on the gridiron or behind the keyboard, life is good for Chris Kluwe. He’s got the football back in his hands and a new book with his name on it.
“There’s no replicating turning pages in your hand,” he says. “And you get subconscious cues from a book when you’re reading it, as opposed to an e-reader. When you’re holding a book, you know how far you are through the story.”
So, no Kindle for Kluwe?
“No, I’m with Bradbury,” Kluwe laughs. “We should dose them all with gasoline and light them on fire.”
Joe Maniscalco is a writer living in Brooklyn.