'This is who I am:' Chris Kluwe says he leaves Vikings with no regrets
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
If Chris Kluwe could do it all over, he wouldn't change a thing.
At least that's what Kluwe said early Monday afternoon, a couple hours after the Minnesota Vikings released their vocal, veteran punter.
"This is who I am," Kluwe said by phone after completing his exit physical. "I've decided in life to call out things that I don't agree with. If I see something that I think is hypocritical or not right, I'm going to say something about it."
That includes the issue of marriage equality, for which Kluwe waged a highly public campaign against a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in the November election.
That includes the absence of a punter in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, for which Kluwe campaigned by wearing a "Vote Ray Guy" sticker on his uniform during a December game.
That includes football issues such as player safety, for which Kluwe drew attention with his white-board jabs at Commissioner Roger Goodell years before his stance on gay rights put him on the national talk-show circuit.
"I would hope that athletes wouldn't be scared to speak out on things that interest them, because it makes the game more interesting," Kluwe said. "It draws people's interest, because you're no longer this kind of robotic automaton that's just spouting out clichés. People can see there's an actual person there."
Had Kluwe not spoken up, rankling special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer in the process, there's a strong chance he still might have lost his job.
General manager Rick Spielman has been adamant the Vikings used a fifth-round draft pick on punter Jeff Locke solely for football reasons, just as they replaced veteran place-kicker with Blair Walsh a year ago.
And for as much as Kluwe wanted to compete and felt he could beat out the rookie, he also was conscious of the situation: a 31-year-old entering a contract year with a $1.4 million base salary competing against a fifth-round pick virtually assured to be given the benefit of the doubt.
Kluwe didn't ask for his release when he met with Spielman after a workout on Monday morning. But he'd made his stance clear one week earlier.
"It was, 'If this is the direction that you're going to go, then please cut me now instead of waiting until the end of training camp,' because that really ruins my chances of trying to find a job somewhere else," Kluwe said. "And when you draft a punter in the fifth round, really, your mind's already pretty made up."
The Vikings confirmed Kluwe's release a little before 2:30 p.m. Monday in an email that included a statement from Spielman: "Chris has meant a great deal to the Vikings both on and off the field in his eight seasons here. He contributed to many victories and we wish Chris and his family the best and thank him for his contributions to the Vikings organization. Out of respect to Chris, we decided to release him now and allow time for him to sign with another team."
Kluwe has other interests, of course. The band in which he plays bass, Tripping Icarus, is finishing up its fourth album. His book, "Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies," is due out June 25. He remains an avid gamer, as well as a husband and father.
He has several appearances lined up in Minnesota in the coming months and hopes to fulfill those obligations. But that wouldn't stop him from answering the phone when it rings with another NFL opportunity.
"I think I have four or five years left before I think about hanging it up," Kluwe said. "You look at punters (at ages) 31, 32 -- you're still in the prime of your career."
Kluwe posted a career-best net average of 39.7 yards on 72 punts last season, though that ranked only 17th in the NFL. He said his left (non-kicking) knee, which required surgery to remove loose cartilage in January, is "100 percent" healed and isn't disturbing his offseason workouts.
He already has a head start on his next career(s). But Kluwe hopes his track record -- including team records for career gross average (44.0) and punts downed inside the 20 (198) -- will extend this one first.
"All I can do is rely on how I've kicked over the years and what my numbers are," Kluwe said. "I think I've kicked well over the years. That's all I can keep doing."