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Was Former Football Player Chris Kluwe Fired Because of Homophobia?

Was Former Football Player Chris Kluwe Fired Because of Homophobia?

Veteran Vikings punter Chris Kluwe made headlines in 2012 with his colorful (and not safe for work) indictment of a Maryland State Government official who opposed marriage equality. Published on Deadspin, the piece rapidly catapulted the punter to fame outside the sports world, making him an instant hero and illustrating that progressivism is alive and well in sports as it is everywhere else. Only a few months later, he was released from the Vikings. He claims it was because of homophobia on the part of management; they claim it was because of poor performance.

Which is it?

Fired for Gay Rights Activism?

Kluwe’s account of the situation begins almost immediately after he published his open letter and became more vocal in his gay rights activism. As a straight athlete working in solidarity with the gay community, he wrote letters, appeared at events, participated in interviews and engaged in a variety of other activities — all, he says, with the approval of the team: “After talking to the Vikings legal department, I was given the go-ahead to speak on the issue as long as I made it clear I was acting as a private citizen, not as a spokesman for the Vikings, which I felt was fair and complied with.”

At the same time, he says, he faced an increasingly hostile work environment. Coach Mike Priefer, according to Kluwe’s claims, regularly used homophobic language in the locker room, in a manner calculated to cause discomfort. The coach described Kluwe’s activism as a “distraction” in the media. Meanwhile, Leslie Frazier (later released as well for poor performance) was telling Kluwe not to be so outspoken on matters like the Catholic Church, and General Manager Rick Spielman was curiously silent — except when it came to firing him.

In the meeting that led to his firing, Kluwe was informed that his stats for the last season had been sub-par, something he admits was certainly true, but claims was the result of how he was coached. He began to wonder if his sinking feeling about discrimination in the workplace was true — could he have been released as a result of homophobia, rather than simple performance issues? Kluwe held his cards close to his chest until the close of the season, at which point he came out with the letter, hoping to spark a conversation about the issue without doing so when his former team members were still trying to focus on competing.

The Team Responds

His description of events calls Priefer a “bigot” and notes that Kluwe would like to assure that he never coaches in the NFL again, while Kluwe refers to Frazier and Spielman as “cowards.” The description is sharp and strongly worded, and it forced the Vikings to respond quickly with a temporary statement while they determined how to proceed. They claim that: “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.”

Priefer, meanwhile, responded that: “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.” He was joined by several team members who spoke in his support on various social media networks, including team members who claimed that they had experienced a supportive and friendly work environment, in marked contrast to Kluwe’s claims.

Activist and Athlete

Writing about the issue for the New Yorker, Ian Crouch notes that the attitude towards social activism in the NFL and professional sports in general has shifted, and as Kluwe himself points out, the ability to talk openly about gay rights is a testimony to how much has changed. But that attitude may not have changed as much as it needs to, as Fox columnist Kevin Lincoln says in his supportive discussion of Kluwe’s case.

Throughout the dispute, Kluwe has attempted to stress where the issue lies. “For 8 of the 8 years I was there, the vast majority of the people in the Vikings organization treated me with respect, treated me with dignity, treated me like a human being. It’s unfortunate that this has to paint the organization in a bad light, when it really is just me, Priefer, Frazier, and Spielman. Like I said, I wish it hadn’t had to come to this. But it did,” he said in an interview with the Minneapolis City Pages.

The Vikings are responding to the growing situation with a detailed independent review that will hopefully provide more information about exactly what happened and how to proceed. Whether Kluwe was fired for performance, activism, or some combination of the two, one thing is probably certain: he’ll likely never play in the NFL again, thanks to his outspoken stance.

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Photo credit: Freedom to Marry.

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43 comments

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7:24AM PST on Jan 12, 2014

Chris Kluwe is a class act. I saw him on MSNBC the other night (All In with Chris Hayes) and was very impressed by his courage and commitment to civil rights. He has my support and respect.

http://www.thebacklot.com/chris-kluwe-goes-all-in/01/2014/

1:49PM PST on Jan 11, 2014

thanks

10:19PM PST on Jan 10, 2014

Thanks for the post.

Kluwe needs our support

8:01PM PST on Jan 10, 2014

Wow, Debbie T. where are you coming from on this one. If you want to blame someone for freedoms being removed it started with the republicans and Bush who started the surveillance and have said anyone who goes against them (repugs) for the environment and petitions etc are considered terrorists. That was not Obama.

NFL has always done things their own way -- what ever suits them. They allow dog fighters/killers to play but if you speak against them you are out.

12:57PM PST on Jan 10, 2014

homophobia alive and well

12:27PM PST on Jan 10, 2014

I think Kluwe should be thank for speaking out for a wrong he saw and wanted to help right. However, I think he should have kept his cool regarding the Vikings organization unless he had absolute proof his firing was over his outspoken stand and if he had proof should have sued. He could have looked for a new job and then continue his life. I think s.e.smith might be right, "he’ll likely never play in the NFL again" but unlike s. e. smith I don't thinks it's because of his outspoken stance, it's more for his ranting about the organization and some of its members publically and with the words he used to do it.

11:49AM PST on Jan 10, 2014

TY

11:30AM PST on Jan 10, 2014

Debbie T, you blame Obama, but have you watched Fox News lately? They skew the “news” to suit their Right Wing agenda. Don’t blame the president—we’re getting to be a police state with the military and covert agencies running things.
What has Obama to do with a coach’s rantings and a football team’s homophobia?

11:15AM PST on Jan 10, 2014

I guess when you're on contract to an NFL team, you really shouldn't get involved in activism that might cast bad publicity on your team, specially if you're not playing up to scratch.

For that reason alone, they probably had every right to release him.

If your livelihood might depend on it - engage brain before opening mouth!

11:07AM PST on Jan 10, 2014

I read Kluwe's long essay on this subject last week.

If what Kluwe writes about Priefer is substantiated, he needs to *never* coach again, at any level.

But I think there may be a third reason as to why Kluwe was asked not to come back. He was too expensive after eight years with the team and a rookie could do his job for much less money. It's a less newsworthy, flashy reason, but it's one many of us can relate to.

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