Near the end of the 2012 NFL season I started heavily advocating for the Vikings to draft an elite punter prospect and part ways with one of the franchise’s all-time best, Chris Kluwe. While I can’t speak for the Vikings front office and coaching staff, as I have no first-hand knowledge of their thought process, but I can say that my thought process had absolutely nothing to do with his stance on same-sex marriage.
Instead, I noticed a dip in his stats, as well as a decline in how his punts passed the “eye test” and thought his regression was pretty obvious. On top of that he was aging, entering a contract year, in line to make a significant sum of money for a punter, and was coming off of surgery. Those facts are enough to land many NFL players in the unemployment line whether or not they are outspoken civil rights advocates.
On Thursday, however, Chris Kluwe alleged that he was harassed by special teams coordinator Mike Priefer for his stance on gay rights. The allegations were made in a big way, using the ever-popular Deadspin as his platform, and he did not seemingly hold anything back. He concluded that his tenure with the Vikings ended because Priefer was a bigot, while Leslie Frazier and Rick Spielman enabled the behavior by being cowards, and brought his release right back into the limelight after a full season without him has come and gone.
In the article, Kluwe details meetings where Frazier asked him to quiet down and text messages from Rick Spielman asking him to fly under the radar. He also talks of Vikings P.R. gurus trying to keep him unaware of media requests.
The most damning allegations are against Priefer, however, who Kluwe claims went way overboard with his language. He says that Priefer commented that Kluwe would burn in hell with “the gays” for defending them and expressed his disgust at the thought of two men kissing.
“We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows,” Kluwe claims Priefer said at the start of a specialists meeting.
Kluwe doesn’t dance around his intentions for writing the article. He hopes to end Mike Priefer’s NFL career for good.
I find it interesting that Kluwe is trying to get a man fired for using controversial language and extreme rhetoric in a debate about a social issue. After all, Kluwe was thrust into the national spotlight for doing exactly that on many, many occasions. Many in this country consider the gay rights debate to be over, with guys like Priefer bigots in the truest sense, and will see no hypocrisy in Kluwe’s ways.
They see it as “eye for an eye.”
That could very well end up being the outcome, too, as Kluwe’s release of his article couldn’t be timed worse for those he accuses. Leslie Frazier is unemployed and thought to be a strong possibility to run Tampa Bay’s defense, but the “coward” label may give Lovie Smith pause when considering his options. Rick Spielman is trying to attract top-notch coaching candidates to his vacancy to save bring his franchise out of the cellar, but coaches usually aren’t too eager to run away with the circus.
Meanwhile, Priefer could very well end up on the outside of the Vikings organization, looking in. The Vikings released a statement that said they are going to investigate Kluwe’s allegations and that they do not tolerate discrimination of any sort. While the team officially reiterated that Kluwe was cut for no other reason than 0n-field performance, they also say they will take the allegations very seriously and that they will eventually have more to say on the matter.
For a guy that was thought to be someone the Vikings wanted to retain, and was even mentioned by some as a head coaching possibility, Priefer has a lot to lose if owner Zygi Wilf is as supportive to Kluwe’s cause as the article indicates. After losing his job in Minnesota and being unable to win a job in Oakland, however, Kluwe had little to lose by airing his feelings at this point. Some might even argue he had something to gain.
Regardless of where anyone falls on the social issue of gay rights, it is inexcusable for a person in a position of power to belittle his employee for holding personal beliefs. That isn’t a matter of opinion. That is law. For this reason, it seems likely that Priefer is in line for some sensitivity training, an attitude adjustment, and maybe even some job searching.
Priefer may have some defenses in his pocket, however, and the rest of this story has yet to unfold. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Priefer doesn’t flat out deny Kluwe’s accusations and move on, like some might expect, but instead takes to the media in an attempt to clear his name.
Maybe he won’t, though. Maybe his superiors within the Vikings organization will tell him to “fly under the radar.”
And maybe he’ll listen.
UPDATE: Well, that was fast. No sooner did I get this article posted did Mike Priefer issue the following statement regarding the situation:
“I vehemently deny today’s allegations made by Chris Kluwe.
I want to be clear that I do not tolerate discrimination of any type and am respectful of all individuals. I personally have gay family members who I love and support just as I do any family member.
The primary reason I entered coaching was to affect people in a positive way. As a coach, I have always created an accepting environment for my players, including Chris, and have looked to support them both on and off the field.
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.
I will continue to work hard for the Minnesota Vikings, the Wilf family and all of our loyal fans.”
Apparently I was wrong, he did decide to go the complete denial route.