Former Minnesota punter and PFTCommenter guest Chris Kluwe dropped a bombshell of a piece on Deadspin today alleging the reason he was let go from the Vikings was because of his vocal support for equal rights. Kluwe is quite clear that while he cannot prove he was released due to his campaigning to defeat the poorly-named Minnesota Gay Marriage Amendment, he is “pretty confident it was” the reason for his departure. Kluwe goes on to detail what life was like with him with the Vikings once he started giving interviews and speaking in support for gay rights. The entire piece, I Was An NFL Player Until I Was Fired By Two Cowards And A Bigot, is absolute-must read and outlines the following timeline:
- Kluwe is approached by Minnesotans for Marriage Equality to help defeat the Minnesota Gay Marriage act.
- After clearing it with the Vikings and their legal department, Kluwe — acting as a private citizen — does several radio ads and a dinner for Minnesotans for Marriage Equality.
- Deadspin posts a letter Kluwe wrote to Maryland delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr, “chastising him for trampling the free-speech rights of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo” when Burns tells the Ravens ownership should “inhibit such expressions from your employee” in response to Ayanbadejo’s support of marriage equality.
- The very next day, Head Coach Leslie Frazier calls Kluwe into his office telling him he “needed to be quiet, and stop speaking out on this stuff.”
- The day after the meeting with Frazier, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf tells Kluwe before the Jacksonville Jaguars game, “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.”
- Now on the third straight day of meetings, Coach Frazier again calls Kluwe into his office and asks him if he is still going to keep speaking out on the issue. When Kluwe tells Frazier he has the support of owner Wilf, Frazier replies with “Well, he writes the checks. It looks like I’ve been overruled.”
- Things start to get tense between Kluwe and the team PR department as they have not been forwarding media requests to him.
- Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer (and currently the only in-house option the Vikings are looking at to replace the now-fired Frazier) grows increasingly hostile, starts using homophobic language around Kluwe and eventually says in a team meeting, “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.”
- New sets of arbitrary standards are set for the members of special teams, including Kluwe, as a way of ranking their performance. Kluwe’s numbers for the year are at his career average, i.e. better than most NFL punters.
- In December Kluwe wears a small patch to support Ray Guy’s inclusion in the Hall of Fame, which leads to Priefer’s outburst, “I don’t even want to talk about it. Those distractions are getting old for me, to be honest with you.” At no point in the season has Priefer spoken to Kluwe about his actions nor has he told Kluwe he was a distraction.
- Season ends, Kluwe is told they are going to bring in another punter, T.J. Conley, for competition during his final meeting with Priefer.
- Kluwe has knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus he’s been playing on for years and is back in kicking shape before the end of February. No one from the team contacts him during this time to see how the surgery and the rehab are going.
- General Manager Rick Spielman does take the time to text Kluwe in February to tell him “Please fly under radar please” after Kluwe remarks about Pope Benedict stepping down on Twitter about the “concerned the lack of transparency and endemic institutional corruption of the Catholic Church, which among other things allowed child abuse to flourish.” Kluwe heeds Spielman’s words and does not remark about the pope any further.
- When Kluwe arrives at the Vikings’ facilities for OTAs, Priefer tells Kluwe he only needs to attend punting meetings, not special teams meetings as before.
- The Vikings draft a punter in the fifth round. No one from the Vikings contacts Kluwe to inform him of his release or further competition.
- On the next day of OTA prep, Spielman tells Kluwe this is again about competition and not about his views. In a meeting with Coach Priefer, Priefer starts to talk about Kluwe’s work in the past tense and how it had been a pleasure to work with him. T.J. Conley, the punter brought aboard for competition in January is cut that day.
- The following week, Kluwe is released from the team.
Kluwe goes on to say that he understands what he is up against for finding work in the league again, not just for his views but because of the veteran salary he would be due at his age and experience. He is also clear why he chose this point in time to tell his story; the season is now over for the 2013 Vikings and his words will have less effect on friends he still has in the organization and that “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.”
It’s a compelling case for harassment, Kluwe notes that Priefer had never used homophobic language until Kluwe became a public supporter for equal rights, and even if — if — he wasn’t released for performance issues, he provides a chilling look into the stone silence and fear a coach can instill in a room when advocating gay genocide during a team meeting, leaving players no recourse but to say he’s “messed up” when on their own.
UPDATE: The Vikings released a statement in response to Chris Kluwe’s article this afternoon.
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.
This is probably not how the Vikings front office thought their coaching search would be going today.
SECOND UPDATE: Priefer has issued his own denial.