Sunday, May 24, 2015
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chris kluwe

We know that rookie punter Jeff Locke had very little time to interact with Chris Kluwe before Kluwe was released by the Vikings, and also had very little time to see special teams coordinator Mike Priefer interact with Kluwe.  Blair Walsh, who just finished his second season with the team, did spend a full season working with Kluwe and was presumably around during some of Kluwe’s alleged scenes of verbal abuse and bigotry.

Both Locke and Walsh, however, stood by their coach following Kluwe’s allegations posted at Deadspin.

Locke took to Twitter to lend his support.

“In my short time with the Vikings,” he wrote, “Coach Priefer has treated me with respect and has helped as a player and person.  I have never witnessed any actions or statements by Coach Priefer similar to those described in the recent Deadspin article.

As transcribed by Kevin Seifert at ESPNWalsh was a little more combative with his words, and it looks like he may be a tad upset with his former holder.

“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.”

Some will aplaude Kluwe’s bravery for posting the article and exposing his coach.  Others will say Walsh and Locke were brave for standing up for their coach despite certain criticism from a significant portion of society.  The debate is sure to be emotional and heated.  Kluwe, however, reiterated on Thursday night that he is not worried about the fallout while talking with Chip Scoggins at the Star Tribune.

“It’s one of those things where this is what happened,” he said.  “I realize there will be people that say, ‘This is just sour grapes. He’s upset that he got cut.’”

 

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.

 

 

I don’t think I have ever admitted this on these pages, but ever since 1500 ESPN came online, I have wondered at times why I even continue to cover the Vikings.  They took long-time and trustworthy veteran beat writer Judd Zulgad and combined him with the fresh, uber-ambitious style of Tom Pelissero to create a truly dominant source of Vikings information.

Unfortunately for 1500 ESPN, however, they also decided to bring Patrick Reusse into the fold, as well.  The phrase “better to release a guy a year too early than a year too late” comes to mind in this situation.  He might have some sort of radio following, but the station should do everything they can to keep him away from a typewriter.

In my assessment, a gradual decline in Reusse’s work began years ago, but really came to a head when he made the ridiculous declaration that it was a “100 percent certainty” that Manti Te’o would end up being drafted by the Vikings.  Of course, declaring anything a 100% certainty in the NFL is a risky proposition, and it is downright stupid when talking about one of the most divisive college prospects to enter the Draft in history.  If the Vikings coveted Te’o, which it now seems obvious they didn’t, there were still 31 other teams that could have thrown a wrench into those plans.  A veteran in covering sports should know better than to make such lofty and brainless predictions using such definite terms.

There really is no harm in a reporter crying for attention by making such a stupid declaration, though, and nobody has felt the need to hold Reusse responsible for it now that the Draft has come and gone with Te’o now sporting a Chargers jersey.  Yesterday, Reusse decided to make the leap from harmless to damaging in one of the most atrocious pieces of “journalism” I have seen come from 1500 ESPN since their inception, and readers should find the article to be downright insulting to their intelligence.

Yesterday, we mentioned that the Vikings signed three of their later-round rookies already, and on Wednesday the Vikings got the rest of their rookies not drafted in the first to do the same.

The Vikings have now announced that fifth round punter Jeff Locke, sixth round lineman Jeff Baca, and seventh round lineman Travis Bond are all officially members of the team.  This now leaves only the team’s three first round selections to sign.

For those still convinced the Vikings couldn’t have possibly replaced Chris Kluwe, with Locke, for any reason other than Kluwe’s off-field efforts, Locke’s new contract will pay him only about $2.34 million over four years.  Kluwe was set to make $1.4 million in 2013 alone.

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.

 

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