Former NFL punter Chris Kluwe has been outspoken in his support of, among other things, same-sex marriage and gay rights.
He has been eloquent, profane, honest and thoughtful — sometimes simultaneously — in expressing his beliefs, whether one agrees with him or not. Now, with his NFL career all but over after his release by the Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders, he has told of his final days with the Vikings last spring in a blistering Deadspin essay entitled “I was an NFL player until I was fired by two cowards and a bigot.” Kluwe took aim at Leslie Frazier, who was fired as coach Monday; General Manager Rick Spielman and special-teams coach Mike Priefer, calling Frazier and Spielman cowards and Priefer a bigot:
“It’s my belief, based on everything that happened over the course of 2012, that I was fired by Mike Priefer, a bigot who didn’t agree with the cause I was working for, and two cowards, Leslie Frazier and Rick Spielman, both of whom knew I was a good punter and would remain a good punter for the foreseeable future, as my numbers over my eight-year career had shown, but who lacked the fortitude to disagree with Mike Priefer on a touchy subject matter.”
Kluwe details events that he says began in the summer of 2012, when he agreed to work in support of Minnesotans for Marriage Equality.
On Sept. 8, the head coach of the Vikings, Leslie Frazier, called me into his office after our morning special-teams meeting. … Once inside, Coach Frazier immediately told me that I “needed to be quiet, and stop speaking out on this stuff” (referring to my support for same-sex marriage rights). I told Coach Frazier that I felt it was the right thing to do (what with supporting equality and all), and I also told him that one of his main coaching points to us was to be “good men” and to “do the right thing.” He reiterated his fervent desire for me to cease speaking on the subject, stating that “a wise coach once told me there are two things you don’t talk about in the NFL, politics and religion.”
Frazier is gone, but Priefer is considered a possible in-house candidate to replace him. Owner Zygi Wilf supported Kluwe’s stance as he became an increasingly outspoken advocate after the issue arose during last year’s Super Bowl and when former NBA player Jason Collins came out last spring. When told of Wilf’s support, Frazier, according to Kluwe said: “Well, he writes the checks. It looks like I’ve been overruled.” Kluwe writes of Priefer:
Throughout the months of September, October, and November, Minnesota Vikings special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer would use homophobic language in my presence. He had not done so during minicamps or fall camp that year, nor had he done so during the 2011 season. 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. I tried to laugh these off while also responding with the notion that perhaps they were human beings who deserved to be treated as human beings. 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. He said all this in a semi-joking tone, and I responded in kind, as I felt a yelling match with my coach over human rights would greatly diminish my chances of remaining employed. I felt uncomfortable each time Mike Priefer said these things. After all, he was directly responsible for reviewing my job performance, but I hoped that after the vote concluded in Minnesota his behavior would taper off and eventually stop.
Late Thursday afternoon, the Vikings responded to Kluwe’s post with a statement:
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.
A little later, Priefer issued a statement in which he denied that Kluwe’s activism affected prompted the end of his Vikings career:
I vehemently deny today’s allegations made by Chris Kluwe.
I want to be clear that I do not tolerate discrimination of any type and am respectful of all individuals. I personally have gay family members who I love and support just as I do any family member.
The primary reason I entered coaching was to affect people in a positive way. As a coach, I have always created an accepting environment for my players, including Chris, and have looked to support them both on and off the field.
The comments today have not only attacked my character and insulted my professionalism, but they have also impacted my family. While my career focus is to be a great professional football coach, my number one priority has always been to be a protective husband and father to my wife and children.
I will continue to work hard for the Minnesota Vikings, the Wilf family and all of our loyal fans.
Jerome Felton of the Vikings tweeted support: “Coach Priefer has always been professional and one of the best special teams coaches I have been around! In any meeting I have been in, I have never witnessed him say anything close to what’s been alleged. That’s just my experience!” And kicker Blair Walsh defended Priefer, writing USA Today in an email: “I have had countless conversations and interactions with coach Priefer, and I personally can attest to his integrity and character. His professionalism in the workplace is exemplary, and I firmly believe that my teammates would whole-heartedly agree. The allegations made today are reprehensible and totally not compatible with what Mike Priefer stands for.”