Last offseason, the Vikings drafted kicker Blair Walsh which generated collective groans from Vikings fans that felt it was a waste. About eight days later, after Walsh showed up in good health to the rookie minicamp, the Vikings released long-time kicker Ryan Longwell. Walsh then went on to have one of the greatest seasons, as a rookie, of any kicker in franchise history.
Fast-forward to this offseason, after the Vikings selected punter Jeff Locke in the fifth round of the Draft, and even the biggest Chris Kluwe supporters has accepted what was going to happen following this year’s rookie minicamp.
The Vikings expectedly released Kluwe.
“So long, Minnesota, and thanks for all the fish!” Kluwe proclaimed on Twitter. The “fish” reference comes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy book series, which serves as just one more reminder of the culture and humor Kluwe brought to his fans over the years.
“Thank you to all the fans, my teammates, and the Wilf family for the past 8.5 years. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything,” his tweets continued. “And thank you everyone for your support. Remember, one label does not define who you are as a person ”
Kluwe met with Rick Spielman and Leslie Frazier for about five minutes on Monday, where he was informed of his release, and he was not provided any specifics on the reasoning. Of course, plenty of attention will be drawn to the fact that the Vikings released the most vocal gay rights advocate in professional sports only days after the NBA had a player announce his sexuality on the national stage and thanking Kluwe by name.
The truth is, however, that Kluwe is on the wrong side of 30 and was owed a sizeable salary for his position. There is nothing about how Rick Spielman has gone about rebuilding this roster that should suggest Kluwe’s activism had anything to do with his release. Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, and Cullen Loeffler are currently the only members of the team over the age of 30. Prominent veterans like Longwell, Antoine Winfield, and Steve Hutchinson have been shown the door in similar fashion under the new management structure.
“Chris has meant a great deal to the Vikings both on and off the field in his eight seasons here,” said Rick Spielman in a statement. He contributed to many victories and we wish Chris and his family the best and thank him for his contributions to the Vikings organization. Out of respect to Chris, we decided to release him now and allow time for him to sign with another team.”
The outspoken punter has plenty of off-field endeavours that include a rock band, a pseudo-professional video game habit, and advocacy efforts for numerous causes. The one that has drawn the most attention has been his support of equal rights for gay people, but it would be unfair to the Vikings to construe anything they have ever said as a condemnation of his efforts.
Actually, last season’s comments from Mike Priefer are the only thing I can find in terms of a coach being frustrated with Kluwe, and that came after Kluwe had been fined for using his uniform to protest Ray Guy’s exclusion from the Hall of Fame.
“Those distractions are getting old for me, to be quite honest with you,” Priefer said on December 13th. “Do I think Ray Guy deserves to be in the Hall of Fame? Absolutely. But there’s other ways of going about it, in my opinion.”
“To me it’s getting old. He’s got to focus on punting and holding,” Priefer continued.
He was then asked if he had shared these sentiments with Kluwe himself.
“Nah,” said Priefer. “He don’t listen.”
Kluwe then embarked on a Twitter campaign to, essentially, chastise Priefer’s comments over the course of about five months. He was constantly taking to Twitter to sarcastically let fans know just how focused he was on being focused about focusing. He is a witty guy, and his point was mostly well-received by his followers, but acting out at an employer publically is typically not going to be a smart move no matter who you are.
I most of the important categories, Kluwe can easily be considered the best punter in franchise history, but the Vikings have good reason for moving on. A run-first team that is about to play two seasons outdoors, where Kluwe has had his struggles, has to consider field position as one of their highest priorities on every single game day. Locke represents an upgrade, a cheaper and younger upgrade, and Kluwe’s release is another step in a rebuilding process that has produced plenty of heartbreaking moments for many Vikings fans.