By BRENDON AYANBADEJO
BOWLING GREEN, OHIO.
Throughout their history, the Oakland Raiders have seen their share of colorful personalities. And in 2013, they’re adding another, signing punter Chris Kluwe on Wednesday. The signing will be formally announced on Thursday.
Kluwe, who was released by the Minnesota Vikings on May 6, will step in for Pro Bowler Shane Lechler, who left Oakland for the Houston Texans via free agency. Kluwe’s contract is for one year, and is for the league minimum.
“I’m excited to be an Oakland Raider and be playing in California,” Kluwe, who attended high school in Southern California before going to UCLA, told me on Wednesday. “Now, my family can actually come to games.”
The 31-year-old Kluwe averaged 45.0 yards on 72 punts last season as a Viking. Kluwe is the all-time Vikings leader in average yards per punt (44.4) and second all-time in total punt yards (27,683) and total punts (623). Kluwe is arguably the greatest punter in franchise history
The Raiders filled a major need with Kluwe, who also received interest from the Cleveland Browns. Lechler, 36, signed a three-year contract with the Houston Texans in March. He was a seven-time Pro Bowler who boasted two of the four top four punting average seasons in NFL history — 51.1 yards in 2009 and 50.8 yards in 2011.
Kluwe is known for his mind and mouth, as well as his leg. He is a vocal advocate of equality in sports (and life), and says he will continue to speak for what he believes.
“I’m still going to be myself socially and continue to tweet and interact with my fans,” Kluwe said.
The issue of same-sex marriage remains a hot-button one in California.
Kluwe said he was happy the same-sex marriage bill passed and was signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Mark Dayton in Minnesota. Kluwe didn’t think it would be an issue there and is ready to press forward in the Golden State.
Kluwe is focused on punting, but he says his eye is also on Proposition 8 in California. Prop 8 was passed by voters in 2008 and governs that the state only recognize marriages between a man and a woman. The law’s legality was argued before the US Supreme Court in March, with a ruling expected in June, and Kluwe is optimistic about the likely repeal of the measure. If the measure is not repealed, however, he says it will be an issue of concern that will need to be addressed.
The outspoken Kluwe also made a statement last year for legendary Raiders punter Ray Guy.
In a December game against the Chicago Bears, Kluwe covered the Pro Football Hall of Fame patch on his jersey with a post-it message that read "Vote Ray Guy," as a protest against the Hall's 50th Anniversary celebrations because there are no pure punters in Canton.
For now, however, Kluwe is hoping for the best.
“Hopefully, I’ll be able to play for the next seven years and end my career in California,” the punter, who graduated from UCLA with a double major in political science and history, said.