Walking across the Macalester College campus, Chris Kluwe passes unnoticed. As usual, the 30-year-old Vikings punter is dressed down: a pair of brown flip-flops, black basketball shorts and a baggy zip-up sweatshirt. A backward World of Warcraft hat pins back his shaggy brown surfer haircut, a giveaway to the Southern California boy's roots on this cool autumn afternoon in Minnesota.
Kluwe climbs a staircase to the second floor of a glass building, where an LGBT group called "No H8" -- an offshoot of the campaign against California's Proposition 8 -- holds a promotional photo shoot. No one is expecting him.
"Are you here to have your picture taken?" a woman asks as Kluwe approaches the check-in.
He nods modestly. "I'm Chris Kluwe, by the way."
"Oh, Chris Warcraft!" she swoons, calling him by his well-followed Twitter handle. "I could fall over!"
Kluwe demurs bashfully, somewhere between cool and uncomfortable.
Two young photographers whisk him away to a white backdrop and toss him a plain V-neck. Kluwe peels off his sweatshirt and an anime T-shirt, exposing his muscular torso, the product of a workout he calls "Operation Adrian Abs" after the Vikings' running back. The photographers stamp his cheek with a "No H8" logo, slap a strip of duct tape over his mouth and begin posing him: Cross your arms. Now hold them out like this.
As word of Kluwe's identity spreads, the shoot becomes a spectacle. A dozen students gawk, whispering to each other and snapping pictures with their camera phones. By the time Kluwe changes back into his own clothes, a line of more than 30 onlookers has formed behind him.
"More pictures?" he says, and poses with every one of them, including the two photographers working the event.
"Thank you for what you're doing," one says as Kluwe heads for the door. "It means so much to so many people."
Though homophobia is far from extinct, the tide of public opinion seems to pull inexorably against bigotry. Last year, Congress repealed Don't Ask, Don't Tell, allowing gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military. Following a string of highly publicized suicides, schools across the country finally got the message and began taking an aggressive stance against gay bullying.
Yet in 2012, none of the four major American sports have ever seen an active, openly gay player. This is why major league sports are often regarded as America's last closet.
"During the times when I played, if I would have came out, I felt like I would have been hurt," says Esera Tuaolo, a former Vikings player who came out publicly in 2002, a few years after retiring. "You talk about bounties in New Orleans. How much do you think it would cost to take the gay guy out? To take the fag out?"
But in Minnesota's near-deadlocked vote to constitutionally define marriage as between a man and a woman, Vikings punter Chris Kluwe has emerged as the unlikely spokesman for Vote No.