The Big Idea: Chris Kluwe

Chris Kluwe kicks footballs for a living, which is nice work if you can get it, and also ponders life, the universe and everything a whole lot. He additionally has a fine knack for writing things on subjects that apparently people don’t expect NFL punters to be able to think cogently about, which is their problem, not his. He does it with flair (and creative cursing). Some of those things show up in Kluwe’s debut collection, Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies, which Chris sent to me early, and which I enjoyed the heck out of. I even gave it this quote on Twitter: “Chris writes much better than I can punt.” I don’t know if they used it. I’m pretty sure, in fact, that they did not. Bastards. Anyway, here’s Chris.


So those of you who know me probably know me as “that football player guy who also wrote a letter for gay rights with the swears,” or “the crazy person on Twitter John periodically talks with.” For those of you who don’t know me, it turns out I’m also an author! (Trust me, it was completely unintentional.)

Anyways, as someone who is a huge sci-fi fan (and human rights fan), I wanted to send a copy of my book to Scalzi, and he responded most graciously by reading it and asking me to write a Big Idea piece.

I, naturally, completely forgot about it until a couple days ago, because my mind no work goody sometimes. Must be all the massive hits punters take. But not to worry! The esteemed gentleman-scholar of this website has allowed me to remedy the situation, and without further ado, I present the Big Ideas of Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies. (Best title ever, amirite?)

The Big Idea

Sparkleponies is a collection of short stories and essays covering a wide variety of topics, hopefully in an entertaining and educational way (I promise you’ll learn some new swear words at the very least). I frequently describe it as a snapshot into my mind, and the main reason I wrote it as such is because I wanted to show you can’t define a human being with just one label.

When various publishers first approached me about writing a book, the majority of them wanted the standard “football player autobiographical” that everyone churns out once they get even a sniff of attention. You know, the “on x day I did y, and it made me feel z because I gave 120% of all the sports cliches my coach ever taught me about Jesus.” That one.

Well, I’m not a fan of that book, primarily because it plays into the kind of lazy thinking that’s so prevalent in our culture (America in particular). “You’re a football player, so all you can talk about is football.” “You’re gay, so you hate sports and love clothes.” “You’re a woman, so shut up and get in the kitchen, and don’t even think about playing video games with us manly men.”

You, as a person, summed up in the label of someone else’s narrow definition.

This is an utter failure to think, a failure to use your brain for something more than keeping your ears apart (as my mother loves to say). Trying to distill a human being, a complex summation of millions of different experiences, into one easily recognizable slogan or catchphrase, is antithetical to the society I want to live in.

I want to live in a world where people are celebrated for their differences, for their complexity, for their uniqueness, for the widely varied things that make them who they are. I want to live in a world that realizes your job does not define you as a person. I want to live in a world where I can be a football player, a video game nerd, a sci-fi/fantasy geek, an author, a husband and father and brother – all at the same time, because that’s who I am.

Above all, I want to live in a world where people are empathetic enough to understand that we’re not all going to be the same (and that’s okay!), but the only way I have the freedom to live my own life is if everyone else enjoys that same freedom in return. I am not a label, I am a multifaceted creature, just like all the other human beings on this planet, and we all deserve the recognition and ability to make our own choices in life.

This doesn’t work without empathy, though, because you have to realize how to see people as more than just a label, how to put yourself in their shoes. Empathy is a big part of Sparkleponies, because it’s also my belief (as a history and political science major) that societies that don’t practice rational empathy inevitably collapse – either by fomenting conflict from within by oppressing a segment/s of their populace, or seeking conflict from without by taking from others and eventually getting into a fight they can’t win. Civilization has a 100% failure rate in the historical record, and that leads to my second Big Idea in the book.

The Other Big Idea

If, as a species, we don’t understand how to value long term consequences over short term gains, then we will go the way of the dodo and the dinosaur.

A lot of the pieces in Sparkleponies deal with the concept of long term thinking and planning, of looking past your own lifetime to the many other lifetimes that will exist once you’re gone, because if we don’t learn how to look past ourselves, we won’t be able to deal with certain events that crop up on the geologic timescale with alarming regularity. Things like, oh, say, asteroid strikes. Global climate changes. Supervolcano eruptions. Toxic pathogens. And that’s not even getting into what we can do to each other if we don’t understand why pushing that red button is a bad idea.

Sure, these probably won’t happen in our lifetime. We should be safe. But they will happen eventually, I can promise you that, and if we as a species don’t understand how to get off this rock, well, I guess we had a good run. We’ll be a brief flash on some alien astronomer’s telescope, our bones a curiosity to our cockroach successors.

Except I don’t want to live in a world with the mindset of “Oh well, I got mine, everyone else can get fucked” that dies off a couple millennia from now. I want to live in a world where we get out to the stars (even if I never live to see it), a world where we explore our galaxy and all the other galaxies in the universe (even if I never live to see it), a world where we understand the beauty that there’s much out there we don’t know, and probably never will, but it doesn’t stop us from constantly searching for answers.

The only way anyone will ever get to see that world, that science fiction dream we all dream, is if we understand that we have to work together, we have to create a stable society that can stand the test of time, and in order to do so, we have to always consider what consequences will result from our actions. We have to value education and rational thought over entertainment and knee-jerk impulses, otherwise we’re spiraling down that same path every other civilization before us walked.

We also need to not overuse commas, that’s important too, which is perhaps the Biggest Idea of the book.

Enjoy the Absurdities of Life

We’re all we have in a universe doing its level best to kill us every second of our existence. Take a step back and laugh every once in a while. You’ll feel much better about yourself, trust me. I’m on a horse.


Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt (via NPR). Visit the book page (which also features an excerpt). Follow the author on Twitter.

63 Comments on “The Big Idea: Chris Kluwe”

  1. I never expected Chris Kluwe to be on a Big Idea. I’d heard of him from football terms, of course (living in MN as I do) but his social beliefs only came to light with the letter to delegate Burns in Maryland. And I had no idea you were writing a book.

    >> I don’t want to live in a world with the mindset of “Oh well, I got mine, everyone else can get fucked” <<

    Yes, this!

  2. We have to value education and rational thought over entertainment and knee-jerk impulses, otherwise we’re spiraling down that same path every other civilization before us walked.

    This. Exactly this.

  3. The combination of the Big Idea and links to B&N where I can immediately buy a book to go into my Nook library has drastically increased my volume of book purchases. Some smart MBA student should write a case study.

    I almost feel like I will have to like the Raiders if Mr Kluwe gets the punter’s job. Which, as a Pittsburgh native, will make me feel dirty. Maybe I can root for the Raiders to go three-and-out on every possession, and then I can root for good punting…

  4. As a lifelong Viking’s fan I was sad that the team let him go. I disagree that being outspoken about equality and decency is a “distraction”. Chis is exactly the kind of role model I want my kids to look up to. He has a way with words and I’m glad he’s sharing his insights through his writing.

    Rock on Chris!

  5. You were one of the best things to happen to Minneapolis as a whole the past few years, and I’m sorry to see you had to go. I am definitely going to grab a copy and encourage all my friends to do the same. Not just because our ideas tend to be in alignment (they do), but because you’re smart and fun. Looking forward to reading it!

    @DG Lewis: How we’re going to handle the potential Raiders conflict has actually been an ongoing topic in our house… no resolution yet!

  6. DG @11:21 – Yeesh, me too! I’m not keeping a list (maybe I should), but there have been quite a few times where the link to immediately purchase the ebook after reading a clever Big Idea piece was just too tempting. This book now included – looking forward to reading Mr. Kluwe’s work!

  7. You had me at “Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies”.

    Also, your mom had me at “use your brain for something more than keeping your ears apart”.

  8. I appreciated Chris for his comments when they hit the news; I appreciate him even more after reading this! There is a direct correlation between my plummeting bankbook balance and my reading of Scalzi’s Big Idea columns. Just colour me Erasmus. I’ve got my priorities straight :) We need more people in “non-traditional” spots saying these things (i.e. some wouldn’t expect a football player to make these statements), because it will help drive home that this is the norm – sci-fi/fantasy, equality, geekery, gaming, etc — you don’t have to be some pocket-protector misfit (but you can be!) to get into all that. It’s for ALL of us. Great messages, looks like a great book, and once again, the Big Idea depletes my cash but increases my brain ;)

  9. @Chris: How big is the Sci-Fi crowd in the NFL? Are there any famous athletes that are secretly Sci-Fi nerds? Would be cool to know if anything these brutally tough guys are running out to get the latest sci-fi/fantasy books at the store.

  10. LOL! I read the excerpt while at work and then sent it to my co-workers, now we are all cracking up. Consider it purchased several times — in my family books are the preferred gifts and this one looks like a one stop shopping kind of deal. Thanks Chris!

  11. I’m so tickled by your book title. I’ve been calling my fantasy football team “Princess Sparklepony” for years. (And if you don’t like losing to Princess Sparklepony, that’s your problem.) Now I know who I’m going to draft as my next kicker.

  12. This book has been on my nightstand since it came out. I’ve read some of it but I’m way behind in my Hugo reads and the vote is nigh so Sparkleponies shall be my reward once that’s done. I’m a lifelong Vikings fan and was very sad to see you go.

    @D.G. Lewis, @Dee Bitner: I’ve decided that since Chris’ job is to give away the ball, I can route for him to do his job well without needing to route for the Raiders!

  13. Lord, the intersection of two men I just respect and nearly love is terrific for a Thursday morning. Thanks gentlemen. If my brother Joe logs on and posts a comment, It’s an Aunti Laura hat trick of lovable men.

  14. I promise you’ll learn some new swear words at the very least

    Sold. That wooden sparklepony is right in the uncanny valley. Incidentally, that’s some mighty fine comma-enriched writing for something dashed off at the last minute.

    America needs more role models like Kluwe and Scalzi. The controversy-phobes who want athletes to smile and keep their mouths shut while making them money and playing ball do not speak for American tradition. Athletes have a history of being spokespeople and exemplars for touchstone issues such as civil rights. Only in very recent history has the sports business tended towards superficiality. Kudos to Kluwe and others for pushing back against the dumbing down of a nation of explorers, discoverers and free thinkers.

  15. “Take a step back and laugh every once in a while.”

    We could all benefit from doing this… daily.

    By Steel City Law, I am required to thumb my nose at the Raiders. However, I shall utilize civil disobedience and give the team the respect it deserves for having Chris on board. Wickedly smart dude, that one is. Look forward to reading the Sparkle Pony experience.

  16. When I saw the title of this book elsewhere, I thought I might want to get it. Now that I’ve read the big ideas behind it, I’m sold. I like the way you think and write, Mr. Football Guy. Now, if you just weren’t a Raider (says a lifetime Chiefs fan…sigh, I know).

  17. As a lifelong Vikings fan, I liked Kluwe because he was a part of my favorite team. I really enjoyed seeing different things about him in the gaming community as well. The fact that he was willing to use his status to speak out (if not a bit colorfully) for the rights of others instead of just “kicking back” and collecting money really sweetened the pot for me. If I was into dudes, I’d totally be Gooey for Kluwe.

  18. I bought this on the Kindle the day it came out! It is even better than he said – although I didn’t learn any new swears:(
    I may live in MN but the only thing I know about the Vikings is that my husband is in denial about his unhealthy relationship with them every year. However, I have been following Chris every since his “fun little” response to the haters. Good luck to where every you go, and the best to the family.

  19. Thank you everyone for the kind words! Really appreciate it :)

    @Guess I’ve met a couple guys that were into MMOs (primarily WoW, though one guy played FFXI (/boggle)) but I haven’t met anyone who reads like I do. Most guys read military history or biographies if they’re readers.

  20. OK, Chris. You just sold a book. If I hate it, I’m going to ask for a refund. If I love it, I’ll buy two more for some friends.

    (I’m not really going to ask for a refund. But I’m still buying at least one copy. Keep speaking out, you magnificent bastard.)

  21. I have zero interest in football (despite being a straight(ish) white male), so the first I heard of Chris Kluwe was his letter on gay rights. I became a fan, of both the idea and the style. When I heard this book was coming out, I preordered it. Now I’m loving it, even though I’m not usually a fan of essay collections.

    I hope more are coming, Chris.

  22. Wow! Great column, and I am immediately going to go out and buy the Kindle version of the book! Being a diehard Green Bay Packers fan, I can only say, I am glad that the hated Minnesota Vikings chose to be stupid and let you go! If only we didn’t have such a great punter, I would write Mike McCarthy and tell him to give you a tryout! I’m an owner, so he would listen to me!

    AND, I am going to name my fantasy football team the Green and Gold Sparkleponies this year, and CRUSH all the men in my league! Bwahahaha!

  23. “to use your brain for something more than keeping your ears apart (as my mother loves to say)”
    Use your head for more than growing hair! For instance, learn to ride a sparkle pony of your very own! What a fun name for a book, and I’m so glad that not all football players are clones of the worst sort.

  24. We miss you, Chris, and would like to make you an honorary Minnesotan. Your official canned tuna hotdish and jello mold is in the mail, as is everything that you will need for ice fishing (wool socks, propane heater, case of Hamms). Welcome to the family.

  25. I haven’t finished this yet, but mostly because the essays make me think, and I have to stop and ponder them a bit. My husband is a sportswriter and the fact that he has never interviewed Chris Kluwe is the first time I’ve ever been disappointed that he hasn’t met someone. :P

  26. Here’s where two parts of my life collide and the outcome, like the Higgs-Boson, reveals something beautiful and necessary.

    I had such a moment of “SQUEE!” when I saw the Chris Kluwe had a Big Idea posting here on Whatever, I’m sure my coworkers thought I was having a meltdown. I’ve admired Chris’ stand on equality ever since seeing his response to representative Burns, and I’ve loved John’s stuff for a while. To have them come together here is just wonderful and totally unexpected.

    You, as a person, summed up in the label of someone else’s narrow definition.

    Case in point!

    I’m a huge sports fan.

    I am also a sci-fi geek.

    These are two things which (in some people’s minds) don’t go together.

    John, just FYI. My wife is going to be SO pissed at you tonight because I’ll go home and start telling her all about how happy I am to see Chris here on Whatever. You were already He Who Shall Not Be Named in my home. I think if my wife had IT skills she’d block your site from every web device I use.

  27. Chris, I’m a huge Ravens fan but never knew who you were until you wrote your letter to Burns in support of the stance taken by our very own (at the time) Brandon Ayanbadejo. I love the big idea of Sparkleponies. We all are many things and should not be slotted or typed into one thing or another. I am over 50 and I am still becoming new and different things. My family just has to keep up. Thanks for your thoughts and actions.

  28. I live in Raider Country, so not only am I legally required* to cheer for Chris, I can cheerfully buy what sounds like an entirely delightful book. I’ve always had a thing for punters anyway, especially punters with great hair.

    *and financially, since a ridiculous amount of taxpayer money went to the team, but that was way before Chris, so I don’t blame him for that. It’s still hard, after growing up a Broncos fan. When I feel especially brave, I wear my Broncos gear in public.

    (Oh dear, now you all know I watch football.)

  29. This was an excellent “The Big Idea” post for so many reasons, and the book’s going on the order list as soon as the next meeting is over.

    Chris, I am looking forwards to you in the SF Bay Area. People with independent multiaxial minds always welcome. Plus, you know, the Raiders need the punting thing.

  30. Chris Kluwe, you’re my new hero… :-) I actually saw a piece of this book in Insatiable Booksluts a couple weeks ago. I really need to grab a copy.

  31. Yay! I love the title, I like the cover, and I really respect Mr. Kluwe for being such a smart, interesting, and talented guy. I have to be pretty ruthless with my budget, so most of my reading is books that are borrowed from the library, but I’m gladly going to pony up (snerk) for at least one, and hopefully two copies of this book. I have a new neighbor who works at a local tv station, doing something in the sports department, and this will be a cool welcome to the street gift!

  32. Yes! Rational empathy, this is a great phrase that for an idea that I’ve been struggling with for ages. The lack of empathy, be it in politics, on the bus, or on the internet is always so strange and frustrating to me. And I love the explicit link Chris draws between Empathy and Critical thinking as utterly necessary aspects for building successful societies.

  33. Major squee! Never imagined that I would be so excited about a book written by a football player, but it’s always enlightening to have one’s prejudices smashed (especially when you don’t think of yourself as having any). I am also looking forward to learning some new swear words and then making the rest of my family read this book.

  34. Super post. I’ve been a fan of Mr. Kluwe for quite some time, as a football player and as a human bean. I might have to ratchet my hate of the Raiders done a teeny bit if he can win the job for punter there. Hope now that you’re published, your mum can forgive you, at least a little, for not going to med school!

  35. As a Raiders fan, I can’t wait to have Chris sign my copy of Sparkleponies in the Black Hole at the Coliseum this season! It’s gonna be cool to have a guy on my favorite team who can actually think!

  36. I didn’t know who Chris Kluwe was until I read this post. I normally think footballing is a waste, and am somewhat guilty labeling those who enjoy the footballing foolish. But then I fell in love with Chris Kluwe, just now. That just now happened because he wrote many of the things I think in the most eloquent way imaginable. Well not imaginable, I didn’t imagine it. He wrote them down in the most unimaginable way possible.

    Yes I tried to crib Chris Kluwe’s style as I proclaim my unending love for Chris Kluwe. Yes I did it badly. No I won’t stop. Thank you Sir Chris Kluwe. It looks like I need to get my hands on some Sparkleponies.

  37. Reading elsewhere on the web about this book, I realized the title comes from someone, somewhere, putting the mallet setting on “Kittens”

  38. Excited about this for so many reasons. Am I the only one who’d by a Sparklepony tee-shirt for a worthy cause?

  39. Huh, I never would have thought I’d have any interest in reading something by a football player, mostly because I thought it would be a football biography and meh. This, however, I am going to read, So thank you Mr. Kluwe for broadening my mind.

  40. This was a really outstanding article! Also, too: you’ve sold yet another copy.

  41. It makes me so happy that we’re living in a country where the cliche boundaries are breaking down. Where a jock can be a geek and still be cool. I don’t have a lot of contact with the up and coming generation, but my co-worker says that at her son’s high school, it’s cool to be smart, and a lot of the stereotypical cliques are becoming permeable. She also says that Zumiez is selling shirts to boys that say I Love Hello Kitty.

  42. Reblogged this on Something's Brewing and commented:
    I like to read Scalzi’s blog, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that former Minnesota Vikings punter (and author and human rights activist) Chris Kluwe got time on The Big Idea. I like the idea that people can have so many different facets to themselves. Kluwe isn’t just a football player. He’s a thoughtful, hilarious, nerdy, non-self-conscious human being.

    He’s an example of how you can’t just judge someone because of a label placed on them or because of their job or background. There are interesting people lurking everywhere. I might just pick up his book “Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies”, too.

  43. The thinking! Those thoughts! That face! Those leggggs ::mrowr::! The whole package! I’d buy the book just to contribute to this positive image in today’s celebrity culture, but I think I might actually enjoy the book, too! Best. Day. EVAR!

  44. This generation is so fortunate to have you as a role model, Chris. Keep up the good work.

    I would also like to mention everyone mentions the football, human rights activism, si-fi reader, game player and new author of Chris’ life, but let us not forget Tripping Icarus. This man can [literally] rock as well. Hope you bring your bass playing skills here to the bay area as well.

  45. I cannot wait to read this book. My first introduction to Chris Kluwe was when he did a Nerdist podcast with Chris Hardwick. If you would like to hear more of the awesomeness that is Chris Kluwe I highly suggest giving it a listen.

  46. Mr Kluwe:

    I had never heard of you until I read this blog entry. I will proceed to draft you on my fantasy football team this fall on principle and more importantly buy your book. Best of Luck.

  47. Regardless of content or context, Mr. Kluwe sits his sparkle horse well.

    Sounds interesting! I will mark this for my Kindle wishlist.

  48. Mr Kluwe,
    I am not a sport fan, being chock full o cliches, but I became aware of you after your letter went viral, and I have been paying attention ever since.

    I’m no longer allowed to buy books (it’s a thing, pshaw), but I reserved yours from my library as soon as it became available. That’s something, right?

    Thanks for being an ally. Also, nice seat.

  49. As another lifelong Vikings fan, I was saddened to see you leave but seeing you here on Whatever fills my heart with purple joy. I’m not sure if Sparklepony is going to replace lustful cockmonster as my fave Kluwe-coined term, but it’s certainly more likely to be acceptable on a book jacket. Good luck this season. But as always, go Purple.

  50. I had to stop back by here to drop off a “thanks” for this post.

    I am NOT a football fan, or indeed a sports fan of any variety. I love it when our regional team makes the playoffs, because that means a few more weeks of having the grocery store nearly empty for a couple of hours on Sundays, making the weekly shopping trip much less stressful.




    I do lurves me an articulate, intelligent, rationally empathetic fellow who “want[s] to live in a world where people are celebrated for their differences, for their complexity, for their uniqueness, for the widely varied things that make them who they are.”

    And bonus that he’s pretty damned cute, too.

    So when I saw this post last July, I astounded my equally sports-averse spouse by insisting that we order Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies immediately and forthwith. I devoured it, so did he, we both loved it, and I’ve been recommending it to friends ever since.

    So, fast-forward five and a half months or so, and Spouse and I are taking Elder Kid out for breakfast on a cold January morning. Elder Kid is a throwback to her grandfathers, a huge, huge football fan, and as we sat at the table there, she started telling us excitedly about this player who had just released a really amazing article about being released from the Minnesota Vikings in part because of his energetic defense of universal marriage rights. She announced, “see, he’s a great example of what I love about football.”

    I responded, “oh, you mean Chris Kluwe, the punter – yeah, he’s a great guy, and he’s an incredibly good writer, too. Do you want to borrow the book he wrote?”

    And the astounded look on her face, as she assimilated the knowledge that her sports-hating mother not only knew the name and the position of the player she was referring to but had even read a book he had written, was one of those moments that parents live for.

    So, thank you, Mr. Kluwe – thank you for being a rationally empathetic and intelligent human being, thank you for writing a damned good book, and thank you for giving me a chance to astonish my kid. She’s old enough at this point (30) that it’s gotten pretty hard to do, but with your help, I managed it this morning.

    Keep on writing!

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