Kluwe says he lost job because of ‘bigot’ and 2 ‘cowards’
By Chris Tomasson
St. Paul Pioneer Press
Former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe claimed in a first-person article posted online Thursday that he was released by the Vikings last May because of his activism for same-sex marriage.
He also said in an interview Thursday he hasn’t ruled out filing a discrimination lawsuit.
Writing for Deadspin, Kluwe called Vikings special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer a “bigot” and wrote that the coach made homophobic remarks in 2012, including, “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.”
Kluwe called general manager Rick Spielman and former coach Leslie Frazier “cowards” for allegedly siding with Priefer and agreeing to cut him because of his views in favor of rookie punter Jeff Locke.
Priefer issued a statement in which he “vehemently” denied the allegations made by Kluwe. Frazier declined to comment. The Vikings released a statement saying the team takes Kluwe’s allegations “very seriously and will thoroughly review this matter” and that the team does “not tolerate discrimination at any level.”
However, the Vikings’ statement said Kluwe’s release last year was “strictly based on his football performance.”
“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,” the statement read.
In an interview Thursday with the Pioneer Press, Kluwe said he hasn’t ruled out filing a discrimination lawsuit. Had he not been let go, Kluwe said he would have been paid between $1.25 million and $1.4 million, depending on incentives, in 2013, the final year of his contract.
“That’s something I’m still leaving open depending on what happens,” said Kluwe, who played for the Vikings from 2005-12. “People tell me that there could very easily be a discrimination lawsuit. Priefer got paid (in 2013) and I didn’t. If the NFL decides it’s just business as usual and tries to sweep it under the rug, well, who knows?”
Kluwe said Thursday he had yet to hear from the NFL, but expects he will. When an NFL official was asked if the league had any comment, he referred to the statement released by the Vikings.
Kluwe said he “was the best punter the Vikings ever had” and that his numbers during the 2012 season were comparable to his numbers in previous seasons. Kluwe, honored Dec. 15 at the next-to-last Metrodome game for being the punter on the All-Metrodome team, averaged 45.0 yards in 2012 and 44.4 yards for his career.
He ranks No. 1 in most of the Vikings’ career punting statistics.
The Vikings replaced him with Locke, who was taken in the fifth round of the 2013 draft and then averaged 44.2 yards as a rookie.
Kluwe, 32, said Thursday he believes his article will end his NFL career and that he plans to stop training in hope of getting another punting job.
In the article, Kluwe wrote that difficulties started after he had been approached in the summer of 2012 by a gay rights group, Minnesotans for Marriage Equality, and asked if he would be interested in working to help defeat the Minnesota Gay Marriage Amendment. The amendment since has been voted down and same-sex marriage is now legal in the state.
After he became vocal on the subject, Kluwe alleged in the article that Priefer made homophobic comments during the 2012 season.
“He would ask me if I had written any letters defending ‘the gays’ recently and denounce as disgusting the idea that two men would kiss, and he would constantly belittle or demean any idea of acceptance or tolerance,” Kluwe wrote. “I tried to laugh these off while also responding with the notion that perhaps they were human beings who deserved to be treated as human beings. Mike Priefer also said on multiple occasions that I would wind up burning in hell with the gays, and that the only truth was Jesus Christ and the Bible. He said all this in a semi-joking tone, and I responded in kind, as I felt a yelling match with my coach over human rights would greatly diminish my chances of remaining employed.”
In his statement Thursday, Priefer wrote, in part, “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 comments (in the article) have not only attacked my character and insulted my professionalism, but they have also impacted my family.”
Priefer has been considered a possible candidate as an NFL head coach, including possibly with the Vikings, who fired Frazier on Monday, a day after the team concluded a 5-10-1 season.
When asked about the timing of the article, Kluwe said he has been writing it during the past month but didn’t want to release it until this week so as not to disrupt Minnesota’s season. He reiterated what he wrote in the article, saying one of the reasons to release it now is to prevent Priefer from getting another job.
“That he never coaches in the NFL again,” Kluwe said of his desire. “Someone who uses those messages and is willing to go to those lengths shouldn’t.”
If there were to be a legal dispute about whether Priefer made those remarks, Kluwe said they can be verified.
“I’d prefer to leave my teammates out of it,” Kluwe said. “But, if it does come down to legal matters, there are witnesses.”
Vikings kicker Blair Walsh was not mentioned in Kluwe’s article. But Walsh released a statement Thursday, saying he stands by Spielman, Frazier and Priefer. Walsh wrote that he “can attest” to Priefer’s “integrity and character” and that “the allegations made (Thursday) are reprehensible and totally not compatible with what Mike Priefer stands for.”
Walsh also wrote that it is “unfair to think that” Kluwe’s “release was anything other than football related.”
Kluwe wrote that Frazier told him Sept. 8, 2012, that he “needed to be quiet, and stop speaking out on this stuff.” But Kluwe wrote that Frazier later backed off when he recounted to the coach an incident involving Vikings owner Zygi Wilf.
Kluwe wrote that Wilf told him on Sept. 9, “Chris, I’m proud of what you’ve done. Please feel free to keep speaking out. I just came from my son’s best friend’s wedding to his partner in New York, and it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.”
Kluwe then wrote that Frazier told him on Sept. 10, “Well, he writes the checks. It looks like I’ve been overruled.”
Kluwe was asked about his primary beef with Frazier. Kluwe said it was that Frazier “didn’t stick up for me,” and he should have considering the punter was a well-respected veteran on the team.
In the article, Kluwe wrote Spielman informed him he needed to “fly under radar” after he had made some tweets in February 2013 regarding Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation. He wrote Spielman had informed him the drafting of Locke had nothing to do with Kluwe’s views, but that Kluwe didn’t believe that.
“It’s my belief, based on everything that happened over the course of 2012, that I was fired by Mike Priefer, a bigot who didn’t agree with the cause I was working for, and two cowards, Leslie Frazier and Rick Spielman, both of whom knew I was a good punter and would remain a good punter for the foreseeable future,” Kluwe wrote.
Kluwe said Thursday statistics show he should have been retained by the Vikings.
“I don’t have any problems with the organization,” he said. “I have problems with three specific people within the organization. I loved the Minnesota Vikings. … I signed an $8 million contract (a 2007 extension for seven years) and I had the same numbers (in 2012) I had before in my career. There was never any talk about renegotiating down (if money was an issue).”
Kluwe was in training camp last summer with Oakland before getting cut. He had tryouts during the season with Chicago, Buffalo and Cincinnati, but believed his views ultimately played a role in him not landing another job.
Kluwe said he will move on now, and stop training. He has interest in becoming a writer, and said he might write a memoir.
“There will not be many calls (from NFL teams) for my services after this article,” Kluwe said. “It’s easier for me to turn the page on this chapter and move on to other ventures.”
Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press contributed to this report.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.