Chris Kluwe during his Vikings days. (Getty Images)
Chris Kluwe, outspoken former punter for the Vikings, has spoken up about his final months with the team, and his portrait of the team's leadership isn't a pretty one.
In a remarkable Deadspin article headlined "I Was An NFL Player Until I Was Fired By Two Cowards And A Bigot" ... well, the headline tells you pretty much all you need to know, doesn't it? Kluwe ranks as the best punter in Vikings history, but starting in 2012, his relationship with several coaches on the team began to sour.
Kluwe pinpoints the time at which his standing in Minnesota turned as the summer of 2012, when he began to speak in support of Minnesotans For Marriage Equality. At the time, Minnesota voters would soon consider a "gay marriage amendment," which would have defined marriage as legal only between a man and a woman. The proposed amendment was defeated, and same-sex marriage is now legal in Minnesota. It would mark the first of several instances in which Kluwe advocated for equality.
Kluwe did not speak out on issues of equality on behalf of the Vikings, only himself. Even so, as he tells it, he faced pushback from three separate individuals on the Vikings staff:
• Then-head coach Leslie Frazier, who called Kluwe into his office in September 2012 and told Kluwe he "needed to be quiet, and stop speaking out on this [same-sex equality] stuff." Kluwe responded that such advice seemed to be at odds with Frazier's directives that the Vikings be "good men."
• Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, who texted Kluwe in February 2013 and told him to "Please fly under radar please" in regard to tweets about the outgoing pope's stance on equality. Kluwe claims that he was never told his job was in serious jeopardy until he saw that the Vikings drafted a punter in the fifth round of the 2013 draft.
• Special-teams coach Mike Priefer, for whom Kluwe reserves his most scathing commentary. "He would ask me if I had written any letters defending 'the gays' recently and denounce as disgusting the idea that two men would kiss, and he would constantly belittle or demean any idea of acceptance or tolerance," Kluwe writes. "Mike Priefer also said on multiple occasions that I would wind up burning in hell with the gays, and that the only truth was Jesus Christ and the Bible."
Of note, Kluwe says, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf expressed the complete opposite opinion. At a September game against Jacksonville, Wilf approached Kluwe, shook his hand, and said, "Chris, I'm proud of what you've done. Please feel free to keep speaking out. I just came from my son's best friend's wedding to his partner in New York, and it was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen."
However, Priefer, Kluwe writes, would step so far over the line that he would even upset less-outspoken members of the Vikings, as with one November 2012 special-teams meeting:
"As we sat down in our chairs, Mike Priefer, in one of the meanest voices I can ever recall hearing, said: "We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows." The room grew intensely quiet, and none of the players said a word for the rest of the meeting. The atmosphere was decidedly tense. I had never had an interaction that hostile with any of my teammates on this issue—some didn't agree with me, but our conversations were always civil and respectful. Afterward, several told me that what Mike Priefer had said was "messed up."
Kluwe was released in May, with both Frazier and Spielman thanking him for his service and wishing him well. He understands that based on his beliefs — and based on this article — he'll never again punt in the NFL, despite still having the ability to do so at a professional level. "Whether it's my age, my minimum veteran salary, my habit of speaking my mind, or (most likely) a combination of all three, my time as a football player is done," he writes.
Even so, he has a different purpose in mind: "If there's one thing I hope to achieve from sharing this story, it's to make sure that Mike Priefer never holds a coaching position again in the NFL, and ideally never coaches at any level," he writes. "It's inexcusable that someone would use his status as a teacher and a role model to proselytize on behalf of his own doctrine of intolerance, and I hope he never gets another opportunity to pass his example along to anyone else." Local news reports have Priefer as a candidate to replace Frazier as head coach.
Kluwe's story is a fascinating one, coming at a transitional time in both the NFL and American society. He's probably right that he won't get a job again; the last thing an NFL team wants is any association with controversy. But for those wondering why an NFL player or players haven't yet come out of the closet, this is another reason why: the sport isn't quite at the same place as the culture at large.
UPDATE: The Vikings have released a statement on the story. Here it is in full:
The Minnesota Vikings were made aware of Chris Kluwe’s allegations for the first time today. We take them very seriously and will thoroughly review this matter.
As an organization, the Vikings consistently strive to create a supportive, respectful and accepting environment for all of our players, coaches and front office personnel. We do not tolerate discrimination at any level.
The team has long respected our players’ and associates’ individual rights, and, as Chris specifically stated, Vikings ownership supports and promotes tolerance, including on the subject of marriage equality. Because he was identified with the Vikings, Chris was asked to be respectful while expressing his opinions. Team ownership and management also repeatedly emphasized to Chris that the Vikings would not impinge on his right to express his views.
Any notion that Chris was released from our football team due to his stance on marriage equality is entirely inaccurate and inconsistent with team policy. Chris was released strictly based on his football performance.
We will have further comment at the appropriate time.
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