By Chris Hoenig
Chris Kluwe’s eight-year career as punter for the Minnesota Vikings ended pretty suddenly. And, according to him, it’s because he’s an outspoken advocate for the LGBT community.
Kluwe is perhaps better known by those outside of Minnesota for his advocacy than for his punting, especially after Deadspin published an open letter he wrote to Maryland state delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr. in 2012. The letter was in response to Burns’ asking Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti to curb the LGBT advocacy of another pro football player, Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo.
Kluwe was cut by the Vikings in June and could not find a team this past season, despite his prominent place in the Vikings record book. In a new Deadspin column, Kluwe claims that his outspoken advocacy is the reason, and Ayanbadejo—who has also been unable to find an NFL job since speaking out—agrees.
“He’s 100% right and I’ve been saying it all along from the start,” Ayanbadejo told TMZ. “You’re talking about a guy who was first or second in every punting category in terms of performance in Minnesota Vikings history.”
‘Be Quiet, and Stop Speaking Out on This Stuff’
Kluwe claims that his troubles with the team began the day after his open letter to Burns was published in September 2012.
According to Kluwe, then-Head Coach Leslie Frazier (who was fired at the conclusion of the 2013 NFL season, just three days before Kluwe’s newest column was released) pulled him aside and told him he “needed to be quiet, and stop speaking out on this stuff.” The atmosphere turned tense as Kluwe told his coach that he was doing the right thing and would not promise to stop.
The next day, Kluwe claims, Vikings Owner/Chairman Zygi Wilf approached him and made his support of Kluwe’s advocacy clear. “Chris, I’m proud of what you’ve done. Please feel free to keep speaking out,” Wilf told Kluwe. “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.” But over the next week, Kluwe said the team withheld media interview requests, despite NFL rules that require players to be available to the media (the league has gone as far as to fine a player $50,000 for not speaking to the press).
It was the actions of Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer that Kluwe said took him most by surprise, however. During the next several months, Kluwe claims that Priefer used homophobic language around him and other players. “He had not done so during minicamps or fall camp that year, nor had he done so during the 2011 season,” Kluwe wrote. “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.”
The relationship between the two continued to deteriorate, with Priefer publicly acknowledging his displeasure with Kluwe’s advocacy of various causes. “I don’t even want to talk about it. Those distractions are getting old for me, to be honest with you,” Priefer told a local newspaper reporter. Kluwe was ultimately released following the season.
The Vikings have announced that they will conduct an independent review of Kluwe’s claims, hiring Eric Magnuson, former Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, and Chris Madel, a former trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, to lead the inquiry. “It is extremely important for the Vikings organization to react immediately and comprehensively with an independent review of these allegations,” Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf said.
“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 said in a statement.
But while it is investigating the claims, the team also says that Kluwe was released due to his performance on the football field and not for anything he’s said off of it. “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,” officials said.
Priefer, who Kluwe claimed was a candidate for the vacant Head Coach position with the Vikings, has denied the accusations. “I want to be clear that I do not tolerate discrimination of any type and am respectful of all individuals,” Priefer told the Associated Press. “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.”
The claims come as the NFL is awaiting the results of another independent investigation, this one into bullying in the Miami Dolphins locker room.