Cancelled at school, Kluwe will speak at libraryThe Coalition for a Compassionate Community rescheduled Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe as a guest speaker for 2 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 20, in the lower level of the River Falls Public Library, 140 Union St.
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
The Coalition for a Compassionate Community rescheduled Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe as a guest speaker for 2 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 20, in the lower level of the River Falls Public Library, 140 Union St.
The CCC had helped organize a mid-October Unity Day at the middle and high schools, securing Kluwe as a guest speaker willing to visit both schools.
Shortly after the group announced its intentions, objections from a combination of parents, pastors and principals converged to cancel Kluwe’s in-school talks.
The controversy stems from a letter Kluwe wrote to a Maryland politician, condemning the legislator’s comments about an NFL Baltimore Ravens player who spoke in favor of marriage equality.
The delegate wrote to the Ravens owner that he and some of his constituents were “aghast” that the player “would step into this controversial divide and try to sway public opinion one way or the other,” and suggested the owner “inhibit” such expressions from his employee.
Especially with a related referendum question on all Minnesota ballots in the recent election, the issue -- and the strongly worded letter -- “went viral” on the Internet.
Some call Kluwe a hero, others criticize the coarse language he used to deliver his message.
He told the politician: “Your vitriolic hatred and bigotry make me ashamed and disgusted to think that you are in any way responsible for shaping policy at any level.”
He reminded the lawmaker of the “very first” Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which includes free speech.
Kluwe calls the man's demand hypocritical, then starts a diatribe that satirizes fear of gay marriage.
A part of the letter publishable in a community newspaper says: “Gay people wouldn’t overthrow the government in an orgy of hedonistic debauchery because all of a sudden they have the same legal rights as the other 90 percent of our population…”
CCC member Don Richards said the idea of asking Kluwe to speak about tolerance arose at a CCC meeting.
Once Kluwe was confirmed for the mid-October date, Richards said a Meyer Middle School counselor, also a CCC member, forwarded the information to school administrators, as well as a group of local ministers.
It’s not clear who raised or received the first concern or exactly when.
A letter to the editor in the Oct. 25 edition of the River Falls Journal opines that parents protested about potential ‘inappropriate language,” causing the talk’s cancellation.
Richards calls the cancellation “predictable” but says he doesn’t think Kluwe would have talked to the kids like colleagues in a locker room. He thinks it was a minister who first objected to the strongly worded letter.
School District Superintendent Tom Westerhaus says “challenges” came pretty quickly from administrators who looked up and read the letter, as well as parents. Other callers said the district should absolutely let Kluwe talk.
The district researched the letter, taking steps to verify its actual language.
The superintendent says it was purely the words the letter contained that prompted the decision: “Not at school.”
Westerhaus said RFSD could not risk someone using that strong of language with kids at the middle and high school.
“The issue was not about gay marriage at all,” said Westerhaus, “The issue was the language he used in a letter to the senator.”
The superintendent said RFSD could not risk someone using that strong of language with kids at the middle and high schools. While many supported and encouraged this position, Westerhaus said the decision was his responsibility.
Asked if RFSD had any protocol for presenters to follow -- an agenda or guidelines or content-approval process -- Westerhaus said the principal of each school usually checks out visiting speakers.
He said it’s common for schools to notify parents when some kind of assembly will happen, usually through the school’s newsletter.
The CCC consists of local members who began in 2011 forming a group concerned about bullying and its destructive effects. The group had invited Kluwe to talk generally about tolerance.
The original plan was for Kluwe to speak in conjunction with Unity Day, which included other planned activities to reinforce messages of bullying prevention, anti-discrimination and each school’s character-education program.
Participants also wore orange clothes and “choose respect” bracelets to show solidarity.
Richards said CCC asked Kluwe for an alternate date, and he agreed to stay a bit longer in River Falls on a day off Nov. 20.
In an email Kluwe said that he’s also appearing at a UW-River Falls food-drive event from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. that day.
The football player also told Richards that he usually “wings it” for presentations, but will talk mostly about treating others respectfully. Kluwe also says the message is likely to touch on discrimination, people being accountable for their actions and recognizing hypocrisy in action.
His talk at the public library will be free. Richards said there will be time for questions afterward.