Chris Kluwe has always done notable things away from the football field. Video game guru, radio personality, Shakespearian whiteboard user, rock n’ roller, and family man. These are all things that Kluwe has received press for over the years, but he is now destined to forever be tied to the gay rights movement, but not just because of his outspoken activism.
Kluwe’s recent Deadspin article that called special teams coach Mike Priefer a bigot ensures that his legacy will be as an NFL activist instead of as a damned good punter with a nice, long career in Minnesota.
I recently noted on Twitter that I was surprised Kluwe was still being allowed to talk about his allegations publicly. After all, he has now retained a lawyer, and it seems like normal protocol is for a lawyer to immediately and bluntly tell their clients to cease all discussions about the case.
Kluwe responded to me on Twitter, though, and pointed out that there is actually no official case to be concerned about here. The Vikings are performing their own investigation of his allegations, which included calling out Rick Spielman and Leslie Frazier as “cowards,” but Kluwe says he simply hired a lawyer to speak with other lawyers that are now involved.
I was surprised to get a response from Kluwe and asked him if he was willing to answer some more questions. I fully disclosed that, while I respected his punting career and willingness to fight for basic human rights, I also thought his public torching of Priefer made him a hypocrite. I also told him I thought his assessment of why the Vikings cut ties with him last offseason was off base.
Again, much to my surprise, he obliged. In fact, his willingness to talk to someone with an opposing viewpoint saw me gain back some of the respect for him that I had lost over the last week.
The first thing I asked Kluwe was why he chose Deadspin as the home for his claims of bigotry and cowardice within the Vikings organization. Surely he could have done more for his cause, gained even more attention, had he decided to jump on a major news network or have it distributed via a more traditional outlet.
“I could have definitely sold it to a major outlet or gotten a book deal by promising to reveal it, but that’s not what this is about,” Kluwe told me. “It’s about showing that this type of stuff still happens, and unless we’re willing to confront it, it will keep happening.”
Kluwe also told me that he wanted his various writings to come full circle, back to where his original letter on the issue of gay rights was published, and that he received no money from Deadspin for choosing them. He never asked for money, he says, and they never offered any.
That original article he references coined the phrase “lustful cockmonster,” among many others, which lies at the root of my issue with Kluwe. He has never shied away from colorful rhetoric that would surely offend a certain percentage of any population sample in our society. In fact, he’s damn good at it. So, how is it possible that Kluwe was the one that ended up being offended by over-the-top comments made by Priefer, other than that it was an opinion that differed from his own?
“Um, you literally can’t say stuff like that in the workplace environment, it’s against the law,” he said. “[Especially] if you’re in a supervisory capacity. Also of note is his tone – at that point I had been around Mike Priefer for almost two years, had had multiple conversations with him, and this was something completely different.”
I asked him if he thought Mike Priefer would actually commit genocide if he had the power and opportunity.
“He was dead serious when he said it,” responded Kluwe.
Kluwe admitted that things get said in an NFL locker room that aren’t entirely appropriate, but also noted that nothing had ever made him feel as “uncomfortable” as Priefer’s explosion of disdain towards “the gays.”
“I’m no stranger to locker room banter, and I know things get said, but there was no mistaking his tone when he said it – he meant those words, and it was a bad atmosphere. He’d never said anything remotely approaching that before. The room falling completely silent underscores that point.”
I brought up that it was an active choice, his active choice, to become a public figure that was taking part in a political campaign that was appealing to Minnesota’s voting constituents. I wondered if it was fair for him to expect those that work with him to keep quiet on the subject, especially since he admits in his article to talking about it with other players, and he proceeded to give me a slight tongue lashing.
“You might want to study up on some legal stuff before insinuating that what someone says as a private citizen makes them responsible for how their employer chooses to treat them,” he scolded me. “Especially as it pertains to this particular issue. I’d recommend workplace discrimination law as a good place to start.”
Of course, this isn’t a legal issue (yet), because nobody involved has decided to make it one (yet).
“In addition, I’ve always made it perfectly clear that I didn’t bring anything up unless someone approached me first. I was there to play football, and I kept the activism stuff clearly separated. If someone wanted to have a conversation, that’s fine, but they would be the ones to initiate it.”
I’m not sure that the line between his football life and his activist life was as clear as he makes it out to be. Previous to his release, he had protested the Hall of Fame’s exclusion of punter Ray Guy by violating the NFL’s uniform policies and was fined.
“Umm, no one noticed or cared about the Ray Guy patch until Priefer went off about it at a press conference,” he replied. “As I noted, nothing was said during the game other than my exchange with Les Pico.”
His opinions on homosexuality in the NFL, his previous place of employment, are also well documented in public view. Kluwe did, reportedly, allow his activism to spill over by calling out other players that used offensive terms. That might be a noble cause you want to see out of your veteran players, but it isn’t exactly keeping his activism and profession separate. He also said that he was confident that the NFL would one day be more open to homosexuality “… when all the old people are dead.”
Kluwe denies that he ever got after teammates about the words they used in the locker room. He says he may have disapproved on the inside, but decided all he could do was try to provide a living example of how to act on a daily basis. My assertion came from this City Pages feature that claims he not only called out teammates for using slurs in conversation, but that he hoped it would provide an example to onlooking rookies. When I pointed out the article to Kluwe he did admit that he would occasionally recommend the use of other, less offensive words be used by his teammates.
He had previously used the Vikings locker room whiteboard to call out the league’s policies on illegal hits while using profanity, and another that mocked NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the collective bargaining process.
“White board drawings the guys in the locker room loved,” he said, again insisting he was never a distraction to his football team.
As most of my regular readers know, I was predicting Kluwe’s release in the months approaching the NFL Draft, thinking the path taken by Rick Spielman would mirror what he did the year before with Ryan Longwell.
My logic was that there was a strong rookie class of punters to choose from that included not only Jeff Locke, but Ryan Allen and Brad Wing. Kluwe was in a contract year and on the wrong side of thirty years old while a normally-secretive Spielman didn’t hide the fact that he intended to get younger. Kluwe would certainly be more expensive than a rookie punter, not to mention he was coming off of a surgery, and seemed to regress over the last couple of seasons.
Like Kluwe, wide out and return specialist Percy Harvin was entering his contract season when things unraveled and he was traded to Seattle. The Vikings drafted his replacement when they traded up and snagged Cordarrelle Patterson in April.
Before the 2013 Draft took place the Vikings parted ways with fan-favorite cornerback Antoine Winfield, with age and salary being the primary considerations, before he could play the final year of his contract. The Vikings drafted cornerback Xavier Rhodes in April.
They also upset veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams by essentially giving him an ultimatum, according to reports at the time, that ended with him taking a pay cut and shaving a year off his contract. The Vikings drafted defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd in April.
Even if he couldn’t see the writing on the wall at the time, and if he was genuinely shocked that he was replaced, how could he possibly rationalize his idea that he was immune to the business side of the NFL? How and why does Kluwe think he was targeted specifically for vocalizing his political viewpoints instead of simply being a casualty of Rick Spielman’s plan to rebuild the Vikings roster?
“NFL general managers desiring a younger team also stick with a sure thing, and I just turned 32,” he responded. “That’s prime condition for a punter, and my salary was actually below that of guys who came into the league around the same time as me.”
He listed Dustin Colquitt, Britton Colquitt, Brandon Fields, and Michael Koenen as examples of higher paid veteran punters.
“Finally, somehow they found $2 million dollars for Josh Freeman, who played one game, and never approached me about taking a pay cut like they did Antoine and Kevin, so that argument doesn’t really carry much water in my book.”
Oh, sure, Chris… blame everything on the Josh Freeman signing. Who do you think you are? A Vikings fan?
Kluwe is quick to point out his successor’s struggles this season. He told me that Pro Football Focus had Jeff Locke ranked as 40th out of 41 potential punters in 2013. I asked him if his feelings towards his release would have been any different had Locke found more success during his rookie season.
“No, but it might have helped the Vikings’ case a little more,” he answered. “I like Locke, and I think he has a promising career, but he clearly struggled with directional punting this year, and as a coach who is replacing a proven veteran, surely that shouldn’t be the case, right? If it’s all about performance?”
One of the main things some people are having trouble understanding about Kluwe’s recent revelations is why he waited so long to come out with it. With a Human Resources Department within the organization and a powerful player’s Union at his back, why did he not take the issue on at the time it occurred?
“Because that would be sweeping the issue under the rug,” he claims, “and I can’t stand when that happens, and I also didn’t trust that I wouldn’t be retaliated against. I still had a job at that point. Actions have consequences for all of us. Also, going to [Human Resources] means identifying witnesses and exposing [them] to retaliation. Not something I’m willing to risk with my friends. Some will say ‘Oh, you made it public, aren’t you risking them more now?’, which is fair, but I believe giving them the anonymity of an independent investigator as opposed to the team knowing who they are protects them far more safely, and this way if retaliation does occur, people will be watching.”
None of Kluwe’s former teammates still employed by the Vikings have really come out to support him. I asked for his opinion on whether or not those players were being cowards for not speaking up.
“Absolutely not,” he answered. “There is a very real risk of getting blacklisted in the NFL. Just ask Kerry Rhodes. There is a reason I’m insisting on anonymity, and it’s not just to make things seem dramatic. Also, players aren’t responsible for other players getting fired. That’s a pretty important distinction.”
Kluwe was recently quoted by FOX Sports admitting that he might have been “a little too harsh” on Priefer. He said that getting him permanently banned from the NFL, officially or otherwise, might not be the most productive outcome of this whole thing. I asked him why the sudden change after such an articulate article aimed directly at ending Priefer’s career.
“Just thinking about it, and realizing that an example is far better than someone who disappears,” Kluwe said on the slight change of heart. “I was upset I got cut, as I think I have a right to be considering, again, I was doing everything the team wanted me to do, and I’m still upset – the NFL isn’t a job that comes along every day, and that was taken from me.”
“However, my goal is to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again, and having Priefer as a positive example of change, assuming he’s willing to change, is much better off in the long term for everyone.”
“If he doesn’t change? I don’t want him ever coaching again,” he reiterated.
It is clear that Chris Kluwe is a divisive voice among NFL followers and society as a whole. Those that agree with him, those that love him, truly do and their loyalty is spotted at every turn. Plenty don’t agree, however, and to those people Kluwe can come off as a self-righteous goofball that, well, “won’t listen.”
I asked Kluwe what it was that made him so confident in his own moral compass, so willing to dig his heels in so deep, that he was willing to ruin a man’s career over what he perceived to be wrong doing.
He told me he had two answers for that, one of which was simple, the other of which was complex. First up, the simple:
“The simple answer is – whose career is already ruined? Who didn’t play in the NFL last year, despite no change in stats? Why is it incumbent upon me to defend an indefensible statement someone else made, who then fired me?”
The complex answer?
“The complex answer is, I constantly examine my actions, before, during, and after I take them, and 99 out of a 100 times I won’t back down because my reasoning has led me to the conclusion that I am treating others exactly as they have treated me or others. I am reactionary. I don’t look to start things. Letter to Delegate Burns? A response to what he wrote. Piece about Priefer, Spielman and Frazier? A response to their actions. This exchange? A response to you wanting to have a conversation. As I said in the original piece, the reason I started recording all this information in April is due to Priefer, Spielman, and Frazier firing me from a job they had given no indication that I was doing poorly at, which caused me to more closely examine everything that happened during that year.”
I noted Kluwe’s admission that he didn’t write down these quotes until April, after many of his quoted statements were said, but he says they are direct quotes. His recall of those instances was accurate enough that he felt confident putting Priefer’s words in quotations.
“Most importantly,” he continues, “Above all else, EVERY time I have spoken out is because a group of people are being denied the right to live free of oppression from others, and I will ALWAYS use that as my moral compass.”
Kluwe then decided to try his hand at yet another profession and promptly took on the role of interviewer and put me on the hot seat.
“Now I have a question for you and it’s not a personal attack,” he told me. “Based on the tone, word choice, and slant of all your questions so far, are you seriously arguing that a man who advocated genocide on an entire group of people is somehow the victim in this whole thing? You constantly bring up Mike Priefer’s job and family. I have a family too, and I used to have a job. Will you interview Mike Priefer as strenuously? Seems only fair, right? Do you think he’ll even give you the time of day?”
I decided to respond. After all, why not give this guy a chance to do the asking for once?
I explained to him that I personally agree with some of his stances and personally disagree with others. I told him I didn’t consider him a liar, by any means, but often times find myself thinking that the reality of a situation is likely different, at least a little, than how one party perceives it. I also told him I would welcome the chance to talk with Priefer about the situation, and wouldn’t pull any punches, in the unlikely event that Priefer was as willing to speak with us.
My response was quite a bit lengthier than that little summation, and Kluwe picked it apart word for word, and was sure to let me know what he thought of it.
“There exists a misconception in this country,” he started in, “That you somehow have to let someone have a viewpoint based on oppressing other people and that you CAN’T EVER CALL THEM ON IT. ‘Oh he has a right to speak.’ ‘That’s just his opinion.’ ‘‘Why are you so intolerant?’”
“This view is insidious, and pervasive, and it is absolute hot garbage,” he told me. “Everyone has the right to free speech, but everyone ALSO has the right to the consequences of that speech, and when someone tells me that their worldview is based on denying equal rights to a segment of our population, or that they want to shut someone up because of what they’re saying, or that a certain group should be wiped out for who they are, I will call them on their ignorance. Every. Single. Time.”
“I won’t ever tell you you can’t speak, but if you say bigoted things, I will call you a bigot. If you promote intolerance, I will call you intolerant. If you suggest in any way that someone else’s life is not their own, free to live how they see fit, then yes, by any deity you care to name, I will cause a fuss and probably swear and generally make your life as miserable as possible because THAT is anathema to anyone who wants to live in a truly equal society.”
“In your questions, you continually conflate the idea that somehow Mike Priefer and I are opposite sides of a coin,” he told me. “Trying to express our views and that each of those views should be respected. Have you ever looked at those views? One of those views says ‘You are not a person. I am a person, and you are not, and I do not desire your existence.’ The other view says ‘We are all people. We all deserve to live our own lives, and to be treated fairly, and I am upset that this is not the case.’ One of those views does not have to be respected, because it does not respect others. It is selfish, and ignorant, and frankly, pretty horrible.”
“Do I think Mike Priefer is a horrendous, evil person who we should never hear from again? No. I think he’s a bigot, that he said bigoted things, that he got me fired because he disagreed with my view that people (gay people in particular) should be treated equally, but that he also deserves a chance to rectify his mistakes. However, I also don’t want him coaching until he does rectify those mistakes, because coaches are teachers and role models, and I will be dead in the ground before I endorse a teacher or role model who preaches hate.”
“You see, there is no middle ground in this case. You are either for a man who advocated for the outright destruction of an entire group of people, in a deadly serious tone, or you are for someone who, while you might find personally annoying and may not agree with his methods, has always advocated for treating other people with empathy and letting them live their lives in peace.”
“And you know what?” he continued “There’s a very easy way to make sure I don’t yell and scream and use ‘extreme, excessive, and offensive language.’”
“Don’t oppress people.”
“It’s pretty simple, really. Don’t try to deny someone’s humanity, don’t take away someone’s job because you personally don’t agree with their stance on a social issue, and don’t treat people like things. Treat them like people. Treat them how you would like to be treated. The fact that I even have to say that is frustrating on so many levels it’s almost impossible to describe, but I will keep saying it over and over and over until people finally get the point.”
My main takeaway from this article is that Chris Kluwe would make one hell of a character in a play or a novel. Much of the audience would consider him the protagonist, while some others surely would consider him an antagonist, but everyone would recognize his defining trait.
Kluwe possesses such an unwavering conviction in what he believes is right that it is interesting, at the very least, and downright astonishing on a number of levels. I think many of us, myself included, would doubt our own perceptions of reality and our own memories just enough that we would hesitate to publish such serious accusations about another person and state such a sinister motive.
Despite waiting quite some time before coming forward with these allegations, Chris Kluwe strikes me as the type incapable of hesitating, but as a guy willing to wait for the most opportune time to pounce.