Chris Kluwe, former punter for the Minnesota Vikings, argues that American consumers and sports fans worldwide should boycott corporate sponsors of the upcoming Olympics because of Russian anti-LGBT laws. Kluwe has been an outspoken gay-rights advocate who claims that his support of same-sex marriage cost him his job. A recent post he wrote for the sports blog Deadspin, entitled “I Was an NFL Player Until I Was Fired by Two Cowards and a Bigot,” has launched an NFL-led investigation. Kluwe, a published author who isn’t playing this season for the first time in eight years, spoke to Adweek about athletes, activism and cash.
Why are you encouraging consumers to boycott Olympic sponsors?
It’s unfortunate that this has to be the case, but the IOC [International Olympic Committee] is really trying to crack down on athletes, saying no protests are allowed. The way to make the IOC listen—and abide by its own charter that talks about inclusiveness and nondiscrimination—is to go through the sponsors. If the sponsors are losing money, they’ll complain to the IOC. The Olympics shouldn’t be held in countries that commit human rights violations.
How does the culture of sponsorships get in the way of an athlete’s activism?
Sponsors are in it to make money, and they don’t want athletes to be distractions. If you speak out on a hot button topic, it may alienate people who don’t agree with you. Corporations don’t want to alienate any potential customers.
Do you think public opinion will eventually change that?
It helps people to be aware of the issues. But consumers can sign all the online petitions they want. If they still go out and buy Big Macs every day, McDonald’s doesn’t care about the activism. They’re still making money.
What do you expect during Sochi from athletes?
My personal hope is that we do see some protests, and some athletes who just say, “Eff-it, this isn’t right.” Anything they can do, like giving interviews, trying to raise awareness of the issue, skirting what the IOC considers political. But I’ll understand if no one does.
Do you expect to see any sponsors denounce the Russian laws?
Sadly, I don’t, simply because of their pursuit of the bottom line. Imagine the impact of a Coca-Cola or a McDonald’s saying, “Hey, these Games are wrong, and we won’t stand for this.” But that’s not the environment we live in.
How’d you get involved with Principle 6, a campaign and merchandising line created to denounce the Russian laws by highlighting the Olympic charter’s written nondiscriminatory principle?
I’ve been working with Athlete Ally (one of the organizing groups) for a while. I thought this campaign sounded great. I do think the IOC will try to make it political, but it’s their own charter. Those are rules they’re supposed to be upholding. Their foundation is built on not allowing discrimination against anyone, but they’re looking the other way.
What are some of the best ways consumers or sports fans can make their voices heard on issues like human rights?
Emails, petitions, phone calls to companies—if they get enough, they do actually listen. But when you stop buying those products, causing a dip in their revenue, they’ll really listen.
Any Super Bowl predictions?
I think the Seahawks will win, barely. Their defense is just a little bit better.