Former NFL punter and outspoken LGBT rights supporter Chris Kluwe has broken his silence about the Minnesota Vikings' decision to cut him from the team last year. And he's broken it in a big way: in a post on the website Deadspin titled "I Was An NFL Player Until I Was Fired By Two Cowards And A Bigot."
The post consists of notes Kluwe wrote in April 2013 when he realized the Vikings were preparing to release him. It contains many damning allegations, particularly against Minnesota Vikings special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer (the bigot Kluwe refers to in the title).
Hello. My name is Chris Kluwe, and for eight years I was the punter for the Minnesota Vikings. In May 2013, the Vikings released me from the team. At the time, quite a few people asked me if I thought it was because of my recent activism for same-sex marriage rights, and I was very careful in how I answered the question. My answer, verbatim, was always, "I honestly don't know, because I'm not in those meetings with the coaches and administrative people."
This is a true answer. I honestly don't know if my activism was the reason I got fired.
However, I'm pretty confident it was.
Kluwe claims that in the run-up to the November 2012 vote on Minnesota's proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, Priefer repeatedly singled him out and harassed him for his work with Minnesotans for Marriage Equality:
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."
But Priefer's behavior didn't stop, it got worse.
Near the end of November, several teammates and I were walking into a specialist meeting with Coach Priefer. We were laughing over one of the recent articles I had written supporting same-sex marriage rights, and one of my teammates made a joking remark about me leading the Pride parade. 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 situation deteriorated even further from there; head on over to Deadspin to read Kluwe's account in full.
If his claims are true, the Vikings threw him under the bus in a big way.
"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, [former Vikings head coach] Leslie Frazier and [general manager] 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. (Frazier was fired on Monday, at the conclusion of a 5-10-1 season.)...
"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. (According to the Pioneer Press, he is 'the only in-house candidate with a chance' at the head-coaching job.) 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. I also hope that Leslie Frazier and Rick Spielman take a good look in the mirror and ask themselves if they are the people they truly profess themselves to be."
Kluwe concludes with an acknowledgement that by breaking his silence, he has all but ensured that his NFL career is over. But he doesn't seem to have any regrets about telling his story. "Never be afraid to do what's right," he said. "If no one ever says anything, nothing ever changes."
UPDATE: The Minnesota Vikings responded this afternoon in 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.