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The Locker Room: A Melting Pot, Where Football's The Focal Point

Chris Kluwe (left) congratulates Blair Walsh after Walsh kicked a 56-yard field goal during a game against the Houston Texans in 2012. Kluwe says friendships in the NFL can be fleeting, but also close.
Chris Kluwe (left) congratulates Blair Walsh after Walsh kicked a 56-yard field goal during a game against the Houston Texans in 2012. Kluwe says friendships in the NFL can be fleeting, but also close.

Whatever twists and turns the games may take on the gridiron Sundays, football players always begin and end the day in the same place. It's a sacred space, a refuge for prayer and reflection — and some friendly trash-talking: the locker room.

The off-field behavior of some NFL players has helped reinforce a negative perception of locker room culture in recent years. But as Chris Kluwe, a former punter for the Minnesota Vikings, wrote in Rolling Stone recently, stepping into an NFL locker room shattered his preconceptions.

"Everyone has this idea of football players as kind of these troglodyte, lumbering mounds of muscle that don't ever think about anything or do anything other than football," he tells NPR's Arun Rath. "But football is this mingling of so many different socioeconomic backgrounds and types of people that it's kind of this cross-section of America as a whole."

It's a melting pot, in which beliefs of every dimension converge on a single point.

"The one shared thing that brings us together is football," he says, "but outside of that, we're completely different people."


Interview Highlights

On discussions inside the locker room

There was always a conversation to be had. You could always meet new people and talk about new things — especially with the turnover in the locker room. Because you see this constant new influx of new thoughts and new ideas coming in from kids fresh out of college.

On the intense — but fleeting — bonds of NFL teammates

We see each other more than we see our own families during the season. And you get to know these guys really well, but then at the end of the year, it's like, "Well, am I still going to be here? Is he still going to be here? Are any of us still going to be here?" We don't know — we hope so!

On working with those whom you might find offensive

If you're going to take a cross-section of American culture, you're going get the entire cross-section. So that means there are going to be guys that don't believe in certain things, or there are going to be guys who make mistakes, who commit crimes and just run afoul of the law. And you can't really shake some sense into them, because everyone has to make their own choices.

But at the same time, there are many parts of the NFL that I think are good for people. I mean, football taught me teamwork. It taught me sacrifice. It taught me how to get along with this diverse cast of characters and accept different viewpoints.

And that may not be the lesson that everyone takes from it, but if anyone can take that lesson away, then I think it's something that's worth valuing.

On whether he's made friends with anyone he wouldn't have if not for the locker room

Probably Ryan Longwell, the kicker who was there [with the Vikings] for a long time, because he's fairly religious, a golf pro, doesn't like video games. ...

I probably never would have met him in my everyday life, but because we were on the same team, we got a chance to spend day after day, talking to each other, you know, learning what makes each other tick.

On whether he misses it

In the end, that's really all we have, is our connection to other human beings.

Not at all! [Laughs] It's really like the relationships are the only thing I miss out of it. Well, I mean, the paychecks were nice too, but primarily the relationships — the people. Because in the end, that's really all we have, is our connection to other human beings.

And that holds true for any job. I mean, you have people that work in an office that — maybe they hate their job, maybe they hate everything around it — but there are a couple of people in that office where they're like, "I can't think of a day I won't be with these people."

Yeah, it's a slightly different job, but in the end it's a job. And how you feel about the people around you — that's what defines it.

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