Thursday, January 02, 2014

Kluwe-less

A lot of thoughts ran through my head as I read the latest Deadspin screed from former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe.

Before I convey said thoughts, here is a summary of the latest Kluwe flap:

Former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe alleged in a Deadspin story that he was released before the season as a result of being outspoken in support of same-sex marriage and was a victim of homophobic remarks by Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer.

Reached by ESPN.com, Kluwe said he didn't approach the team, the NFL or the NFL Players Association about Priefer's comments at the time because doing so is "something that ends careers."

According to Kluwe's piece, which was posted Thursday and titled "I was an NFL player until I was fired by two cowards and a bigot," Priefer criticized the punter throughout the 2012 season for his support of same-sex marriage, allegedly saying in a November team meeting that "we should round up all the gays, send them to an island and nuke it until it glows."

Priefer released a statement Thursday night, denying Kluwe's allegations.

"I want to be clear that I do not tolerate discrimination of any type and am respectful of all individuals," Priefer said. "I personally have gay family members who I love and support just as I do any family member. ... 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. ..."

Kluwe told ESPN on Thursday that he did not feel he could report the comments to coach Leslie Frazier, whom Kluwe said had already told him to stop speaking out on same-sex marriage, and added he feared no other team would sign him because of his views. He also felt his views put him at odds with Priefer, Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman.

Kluwe declined to name the other players who witnessed Priefer's alleged comments, and said he wouldn't unless "this goes legal. I'm not dragging anyone in unless I have to."

Obviously the alleged "round up all the gays" comment by Priefer is the most shocking. If indeed he said such a thing, Priefer may never work as a football coach again, which would severely hamper his income earning potential. As such, if Kluwe is fabricating this story, it's a textbook case of slander. While Kluwe's writings are often explosive and controversial, I don't get the impression he is a flat out liar. Another aspect of this is the fact there are homosexual players on NFL rosters today. I have no doubt that Kluwe is making this incident public so that those players never have to be exposed to that sort of abuse. This is especially relevant in light of the difficult situation involving Miami Dolphins' O-lineman Richie Incognito and his shocking verbal abuse of teammate Jonathan Martin.

Where there's room for nuance in this situation is the idea that Kluwe was gassed solely on the basis of his beliefs. I absolutely believe it's possible for an organization to reprimand a player's actions while still being aligned with said player's worldview. In fact, Kluwe conveyed in his latest Deadspin piece that Vikings owner Zygi Wilf told him personally that he appreciated (and agreed with) Kluwe's stance on same-sex marriage. However, there was a reasonable expectation by the Vikings organization that the matter be addressed with some decorum. Given that the gay marriage issue is so polarizing (it's right around a 50-50 split these days), it's best not to be too bombastic since the Vikings fan base is a reflection of society as a whole. As such, one risks alienating half the Vikings faithful if this issue (or any polarizing issue) is opined upon in a foul-mouthed, condescending manner. So when coach Frazier and GM Spielman requested that Kluwe basically dial back the rhetoric, it's possible it could have had more to do with limiting unwanted distractions and less with the content of Kluwe's advocacy.

Alas, there are many observers of this story who will never believe anything other than a scenario of Kluwe being released by the Vikings solely because of his advocacy. And for those who hold that belief, I ask this: How would you feel if a multi-millionaire who desired to be part of an NFL ownership group was denied that opportunity because of comments some people deemed "controversial?" In the name of consistency, I would hope you would react with the same disgust and outrage you have shown in the Kluwe situation. Yes, I am absolutely curious how the Kluwe apologists reacted in 2009 when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell essentially said Rush Limbaugh would not be welcome to be part of on NFL ownership group due to some "controversial comments" he made back in 2003. I admit that it's easier to be outraged over the alleged unfair treatment of someone who shares your worldview. But if a person with whom you disagree vehemently is subject to the same persecution? Oftentimes a different tune is sung.

I honestly don't know if Kluwe will ever play in another NFL game. He himself admits the prospects are dim. And whether or not you agree with his approach, Kluwe believes in his heart of hearts that he's offering up a cautionary tale about life in today's NFL, even if it's a the death knell of his playing days. While I don't agree with the methodology, I can certainly admire his conviction.

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