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A lesson in social empathy, from 'Sparkleponies' writer Chris Kluwe

April 13, 2014|By James Barragan
  • "If 90% of our population had the idea of empathy instilled in them at a young age ... then you prevent the other 10% of people from coalescing and making things worse for everyone else," former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe said Saturday in an appearance at the Festival of Books.
"If 90% of our population had the idea of empathy instilled in them… (Bret Hartman/For The Times )

The former punter for the Minnesota Vikings who made headlines last year by posting a letter online saying his advocacy for same-sex marriage cost him his NFL job was an open book during his appearance Saturday at the L.A. Times Festival of Books.

Chris Kluwe spoke for less than 10 minutes before he readily opened up the floor for questions.

“Treat this like an AMA on Reddit,” said Kluwe, the author of "Beautiful Unique Sparkleponies: On Myths, Morons, Free Speech, Football and Assorted Absurdities," a collection of essays and short stories on the topic of social empathy.

Audience members seized the opportunity and opened up discussion on topics as varied as gay players in the NFL, climate change, the economic system of the United States and even space travel. But the running theme of Kluwe’s talk was empathy, something he thinks of as a vaccine that could help prevent future problems.

FULL COVERAGE: Festival of Books

“If 90% of our population had the idea of empathy instilled in them at a young age, [if] they knew to treat people the way they want others to treat them, then you prevent the other 10% of people from coalescing and making things worse for everyone else,” Kluwe said.

In response to a question about whether the United States was partially complicit in many of the ills of the world, Kluwe said that the central cause of conflict is scarcity of resources. He said governments should be doing more to go into space to look for more resources.

“If you want to get rid of resource scarcity you have to teach people why competing for resources is a bad idea and instead we should be working together to get more resources,” Kluwe said. 

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When asked about education:

“We have the greatest learning tool at our fingertips. It’s the Internet,” Kluwe told the audience, adding that phones could play a vital role in education. “The information is out there; it’s just if you know how to find it.”

The former football player also talked about gay players in the NFL. (The Minnesota Vikings issued a statement earlier this year calling Kluwe's claims about his departure "entirely inaccurate" and saying that he was "released strictly based on his football performance.")

“I think the NFL is slowly realizing that they need to catch up with the rest of the population,” Kluwe said, adding that same-sex marriage is a “generational issue” that most players don't oppose.

Coaching staff, front-office staff and owners, on the other hand, are more conservative on the subject.

But the league needs to be more understanding of the issue and adapt to the generational shift, he said. “If they don’t, then they’ll start losing money, and the NFL hates losing money,” he said. 

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