MINNEAPOLIS — Former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe alleged in a Deadspin story that he was released before the season as a result of being outspoken in support of same-sex marriage and was a victim of homophobic remarks by Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer.
Reached by ESPN.com, Kluwe said he didn’t approach the team, the NFL or the NFL Players Association about Priefer’s comments at the time because doing so is “something that ends careers.”
According to Kluwe’s piece, which was posted Thursday and titled “I was an NFL player until I was fired by two cowards and a bigot,” Priefer criticized the punter throughout the 2012 season for his support of same-sex marriage, allegedly saying in a November team meeting that “we should round up all the gays, send them to an island and nuke it until it glows.”
Priefer released a statement Thursday night, denying Kluwe’s allegations.
“I want to be clear that I do not tolerate discrimination of any type and am respectful of all individuals,” Priefer said. “I personally have gay family members who I love and support just as I do any family member. … 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. …”
Kluwe told ESPN on Thursday that he did not feel he could report the comments to coach Leslie Frazier, whom Kluwe said had already told him to stop speaking out on same-sex marriage, and added he feared no other team would sign him because of his views. He also felt his views put him at odds with Priefer, Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman.
Kluwe declined to name the other players who witnessed Priefer’s alleged comments, and said he wouldn’t unless “this goes legal. I’m not dragging anyone in unless I have to.”
Frazier, who was fired Monday, responded to a text message, saying he had no comment.
“The NFL has become such a corporate mindset. They want to make sure there’s no distractions anywhere, ever,” Kluwe said. “In the ideal NFL world, you show up to play on Sundays, and that’s it — they take you out of your box and put you back in. Until we get past the idea that money is the overwhelming influence and you can’t live your life at the same time, people will view activism as a distraction.”
The NFL has become such a corporate mindset. They want to make sure there’s no distractions anywhere, ever. In the ideal NFL world, you show up to play on Sundays, and that’s it — they take you out of your box and put you back in. Until we get past the idea that money is the overwhelming influence and you can’t live your life at the same time, people will view activism as a distraction.
— Former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe
The Vikings issued a statement Thursday saying they would review Kluwe’s allegations. They also said there was no ulterior motive for his release.
“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,” the statement read. “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.”
Kluwe’s stance on same-sex marriage drew headlines during the fall of 2012, when he helped with the charge to defeat a Minnesota constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as being between one man and one woman. Voters rejected the amendment, and the Minnesota State Legislature legalized same-sex marriage this past spring.
In the Deadspin piece, Kluwe said Frazier first asked him to stop speaking out about same-sex marriage in September 2012, shortly before the Vikings’ season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Frazier relented later that month, Kluwe wrote, after team owner Zygi Wilf told Kluwe before the Jaguars game he was proud of the punter for speaking out.
Late in the 2012 season, with the Vikings chasing a playoff berth, Kluwe wore a “Vote Ray Guy” patch on his jersey to campaign for the Hall of Fame. That seemed to wear on Priefer.
“Those distractions are getting old for me, to be quite honest with you,” Priefer said at the time. “Do I think Ray Guy deserves to be in the Hall of Fame? Absolutely. But there’s other ways of going about doing it, in my opinion.
“To me, it’s getting old,” Priefer added, referring to Kluwe’s advocacy. “He’s got to focus on punting and holding.”
Kluwe said Wilf’s wife also approached him before a November game and encouraged him to keep doing what he was doing.
Asked if he felt he could approach Wilf about Priefer’s comments, Kluwe said, “Zygi’s not really hands-on with the team. He’s very invested in the team — he’s probably the best owner I’ve ever seen — but he’s not like a Jerry Jones where he’s around all the time. I would kind of see him around occasionally. He’s very passionate and exuberant, but it’s not like I can walk up to Zygi’s office.”
Kluwe also wrote that Spielman texted him and called him in February, asking him to stop tweeting about the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI because angry fans were calling the Vikings’ offices. The Vikings released Kluwe after they took UCLA punter Jeff Locke in the fifth round of the draft in April; Spielman said at the time the decision was performance-based and affirmed Kluwe’s right to express his views. Priefer later said the decision was performance-based, adding he felt “very strongly” the Vikings needed a change at the position.
Kluwe, 33, signed with the Oakland Raiders but was cut during training camp. He’s had tryouts with several teams since then, but hasn’t been offered another job.
Kluwe said the Raiders told him they had no problem with him speaking out, only asking whether Kluwe felt his activism would be a distraction. To him, though, the fact that he hasn’t caught on with another team after eight years with the Vikings sends a tacit message that teams are afraid to sign him.
“I’ve had a couple tryouts. I’ve punted consistently. I’ve put the ball outside the numbers with good hang time — [averaging] 43, 45 yards,” he said. “It’s a position where, if you’re good, you can play until you’re 39, 40 years old. The fact I’ve been doing these tryouts and not having a chance to do my job, to me, is a strongly unworded statement that you’re not going have a job again.”
Locke and Vikings kicker Blair Walsh both offered their support of Priefer on Thursday.
“I have had countless conversations and interactions with coach Priefer, and I personally can attest to his integrity and character,” Walsh said in a statement he released directly to reporters. “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. …
“In my time here at Minnesota, Rick Spielman and Leslie Frazier have exemplified true leadership. Contrary to Chris’ statements, they have promoted a workplace environment that was conducive for success. At no time did I ever feel suppressed or that I could not be myself.
“I firmly stand behind Rick Spielman, Leslie Frazier, and Mike Priefer.”
Locke offered his take on Priefer on Twitter:
(1/2) In my short time with the Vikings, Coach Priefer has treated me with respect and has helped me develop as a player and person.
— Jeff Locke (@jefflocke18) January 2, 2014
(2/2) I have never witnessed any actions or statements by Coach Priefer similar to those described in the recent Deadspin article.
— Jeff Locke (@jefflocke18) January 2, 2014
- Previously covered Vikings for St. Paul Pioneer Press
- Also covered Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Wild and Washington Nationals
- Twin Cities native and University of Minnesota graduate