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Vikings punter Chris Kluwe visited the River Falls Public Library Tuesday, Nov. 20 to talk about respect, rights and empathy, among other topics. Several Vikings fans in the audience at the library last week got to meet the team's punter, Chris Kluwe, and get his autograph after his presentation. <i>Debbie Griffin photos</i>

Kluwe talk highlights respect, empathy, freedom

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Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe visited the River Falls Public Library Tuesday, Nov. 20, and spoke to a crowd of about 60 people. He gave a short speech, then took questions from the audience.

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The NFL player rocketed into the national spotlight after sending -- via online media -- a satirical, extremely critical, and, at times, profanely worded letter to a Maryland legislator.

After a Baltimore Ravens player made a public comment about marriage equality, the lawmaker told the team's owner that he should not allow his players to speak out and "try to influence policy."

The letter went viral and gained even more attention since the Nov. 6 Minnesota ballots contained a referendum question asking if the state Constitution should define marriage as between one man and one woman; voters said no.

The local Coalition for a Compassionate Community invited Kluwe to talk at the middle and high schools as part of its effort to promote respectful behavior, prevent bullying and build upon the school district's Character Education curriculum.

Not long after CCC began announcing that Kluwe had agreed to come into the schools, complaints and concerns about his letter's foul language came from parents, administrators and pastors.

The concern resulted in a decision to not allow Kluwe to talk at schools, so the CCC rescheduled his talk for the library location.

Empathy rules

Kluwe said later in the speech, "I wasn't exactly expecting the letter to go viral like that."

The letter thrust him into the spotlight as an advocate of marriage equality. He said a main reason for his actions is that more people need to speak up and follow the Golden Rule.

"People need more empathy in their lives," reasoned Kluwe. "How will someone respect my rights if I don't respect theirs?"

The room erupted with applause at the mention of how the 'marriage amendment' failed in Minnesota.

Kluwe recognizes that historically, struggle and controversy result when someone's rights are at stake, referring to the abolition of slavery and civil and women's rights as examples

He said he likes to leave his mind open to the possibility of learning: "I want to live in a society where people celebrate their differences, not penalize them."

Kluwe concluded his talk after about 15 or 20 minutes and invited people to ask him questions, most of which are summarized below, along with their answers.

Has the controversy strengthened your beliefs in marriage equality?

Kluwe answered that people are quick to say they know what God thinks when in actuality, humans can't fathom that intelligence.

"I am willing to let people believe what they want to believe," he said, "as long as they do the same for me."

Do most football players have a conservative view of marriage?

The player said with a smile that they're all conservative when it comes to money, but that once-accepted slurs are no longer the norm.

"The NFL is changing because the people who are the NFL are changing." said the Vikings punter.

Who or what influenced your values?

Kluwe said his parents and reading books make him "the way he is." He advocated reading several times during his presentation.

Were you ever bullied as a kid?

Yes, some. He said his peers didn't understand why he read so much, wore thick glasses or kept to himself.

Where are we going with social acceptance?

He thinks toward more freedom, as history shows people normally do. Kluwe warned that people should be wary of disappearing freedoms and become educated about why people aspire to gain more power.

It used to be taboo to "come out" in the NFL, what about now?

Kluwe said he thinks it's much better now and that players only want to know: 'Can you play football?'

Has the NFL's power gone too far? Is it too big and influential?

Kluwe said the NFL only makes as much money as the fans will support. He said he'd value people taking the sport a little less seriously: "Society does value entertainment and its military more than it values education and other things."

What will you do after football?

He said he hasn't decided but has thought of teaching or writing. He also has a game store in California where he might go to operate and grow the business.

Do you think your blog affected the outcome of the marriage amendment referendum?

He said maybe, but thinks the vote was more about people realizing "it" was about equality.

What's next for Chris Kluwe the activist?

Kluwe replied "Just being me," explaining that he's always been one to speak out against things he thinks are wrong; this one just hit a sensitive nerve.

Were the Vikings concerned about your activism?

He said the team reminded him that it's a broad-appeal organization and helped him better understand his role as a representative. He said the concern stemmed from the letter's language, not the activism.

The organization basically told him, "Make sure you can still kick the football."

How many schools have you spoken at?

Kluwe said so far, none.

Will you consider trying to talk to kids?

Kluwe said he likes to comment on Twitter because the social-media tool forces him make a concise, 140-character point. People can then pass that on and talk about it -- bringing forth legitimate debate, argument.

Kluwe closed by saying, "If you're comfortable in your beliefs, you shouldn't have a problem with someone else expressing theirs."

He said if someone can't or doesn't want to defend their points, then perhaps they aren't strong ones. The player called basic empathy a "cornerstone principle of society."

Kluwe's talk at the library will air on RFC-TV Channel 16 at various times throughout December and is available for on-demand viewing here: http://rfctv.pegcentral.com

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