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Updated: April 27th, 2013 3:06pm
Chris Kluwe hopes activism doesn't get him cut: 'I am here to compete'

Chris Kluwe hopes activism doesn't get him cut: 'I am here to compete'

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Chris Kluwe says he has "every intention" of trying to keep his job, even after the Minnesota Vikings used a fifth-round pick on Jeff Locke on Saturday.

"If they don't know my character by now, then they're probably not ever going to figure it out," Kluwe told 1500ESPN.com. "I am here to compete. I'm here to do the best job that I possibly can. It doesn't matter if they draft someone or they bring someone in or whatever. I'm here to do my job to the best of my ability.

"If they're going to cut me, then that's what they're going to do. But I can't really influence that. That's a front-office decision."

Kluwe, 31, posted a career-best net average of 39.7 yards on 72 punts last season, with 13 downed inside the 20-yard line and no touchdowns for the first time since 2005, despite playing much of the season with torn cartilage in his left (non-punting) knee that required surgery.

But he also drew a public rebuke from special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, who questioned Kluwe's focus after he campaigned in support of marriage equality and wore a "Vote Ray Guy" sticker on his uniform during a game.

"Again, I'm not a front-office person, so I don't know if that played into it or not," Kluwe said. "It's one of those things where you hope it wouldn't be a factor, because the NFL is supposed to be about just what you can do on the field.

"You've got guys in the league that have committed crimes. You've got guys that have been arrested. That hasn't seemed to slow anyone down. It'd really be a shame if me speaking out for equality was what got me cut. I think that doesn't say a lot of good things about the nature of football."

The other NFL player to speak out extensively in favor of marriage equality, linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, was released by the Baltimore Ravens earlier this month.

Ayanbadejo questioned whether his political views were a factor in his release in one media interview before backpedaling the next day.

"It's a valid question to ask," Kluwe said. "I'm not there in those meetings, so I can't answer it. But there is something ... who knows?"

Kluwe is due $1.4 million in non-guaranteed base salary and a $50,000 workout bonus in 2013, so Locke presents a more affordable option. The pick comes one year after the Vikings used a surprise sixth-round selection on Blair Walsh, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie.

Priefer is an old-school coach and former Naval officer who is known for an intense, vocal approach. At times, that style can clash with veteran players, and Kluwe is known to have had some disagreements with him in the past.

The main difference between Kluwe and place-kicker Ryan Longwell, who was cut about a week after Walsh was drafted, is Longwell had endured a brutal 2011 season in which he made only 22 of 28 field-goal attempts (78.6%) and missed an extra point.

"I think I was in the middle to bottom in terms of numbers," said Kluwe, who ranked 22nd in gross average (45.0) and 17th in net during a remarkable statistical season for punters in 2012.

"But at the same time, I've also been asked for multiple years now by special teams coaches to punt it shorter and higher so our guys can cover. That's what I did. That's what the team wanted."

Kluwe was recording music with his band, Tripping Icarus, when he heard the Vikings had drafted Locke. He also has written a book, "Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies," and is known as an avid gamer in addition to the activism that had him on the national talk-show circuit in January.

He originally signed with the Seattle Seahawks as an undrafted free agent out of UCLA in 2005 before coming to Minnesota, where he has spent his entire eight-year NFL career. He has battled fits of inconsistency but holds numerous Vikings records, including career gross average (44.0) and punts downed inside the 20 (198), and also is coming off a flawless year as Walsh's holder.

"That's all I can do, is just go out and show who I am," Kluwe said. "Statistically, I've been the best punter in Vikings history. I can't really say anything other than that."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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