A former NFL punter and one of the most outspoken LGBT advocates in professional sports says that his activism led to his ouster.
Chris Kluwe, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings, wrote in Deadspin on Thursday that his public support for same-sex marriage played a role in his release from the team. Specifically, Kluwe identified “two cowards” and a “bigot” at the Vikings organization who were behind his release.
The “cowards,” according to Kluwe, were former head coach Leslie Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman. Frazier was fired by the Vikings on Monday following a disappointing 5-10-1 season.
Kluwe said that Frazier tried multiple times to silence him in 2012 after the player had begun campaigning against a proposed amendment in Minnesota that would have outlawed gay nuptials (voters ultimately rejected the measure). Despite Frazier’s pleas, Kluwe told the coach that he would not stop speaking out.
Kluwe said team owner Zygi Wilf applauded his activism, encouragement that seemingly prompted Frazier to back off.
After Kluwe reacted to Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation last year with some tweets that were critical of the Catholic Church, he said he received a text message from Spielman urging him to “fly under radar.”
But according to Kluwe, the harshest push back came from Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer, dubbed the “bigot” in the Deadspin piece. After he began campaigning against the gay marriage amendment, Kluwe said he drew some anti-gay slurs from Priefer — rhetoric he said the coach hadn’t used before.
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.
Kluwe recalled a particularly chilling remark from Priefer during a team meeting toward the end of last season.
“We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows,” Priefer said, according to Kluwe.
Kluwe was released by the Vikings last year after the team surprised many by selecting a punter in the NFL Draft.
He said it seems clear that he “will no longer punt in the NFL,” especially in the wake of his candid piece in Deadspin.
The Vikings did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.
Update: The Vikings issued a response rebutting Kluwe’s claims on Thursday 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.