Chris Kluwe is a pretty brave dude.
In addition to making a living kicking a football while trying to avoid 300-pound gladiators, the nine-year veteran punter has been an outspoken gay rights advocate despite being part of an NFL players' fraternity that hasn't exactly been open to that viewpoint.
Kluwe penned an op-ed for Deadspin that ran on Thursday afternoon in which the former Minnesota Vikings punter called his former bosses "two cowards" and his position coach "a bigot."
Please go read the entire passage, because pulling out the most incendiary comments is not fair to his overall point, but in the spirit of recap and reaction, here are a few of Kluwe's words admittedly taken utterly out of context. Via Deadspin.com:
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, as my numbers over my eight-year career had shown, but who lacked the fortitude to disagree with Mike Priefer on a touchy subject matter.
The touchy subject matter—which is the grand sweeping point of Kluwe's article—is that special teams coach Mike Priefer used Kluwe's status as a public advocate for same-sex marriage and gay rights against the punter, verbally berating him at practices and team meetings, downgrading his performance and eventually, per Kluwe's claim, getting him released from the team.
If true, it's a very serious charge and something the NFL must investigate further. If, per Kluwe's claim, Priefer said during an official team meeting that "[w]e should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows," that's probably something NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell might want to talk to Priefer about...as he's suspending him, if that's possible.
Priefer has since denied Kluwe's claims, according to Tom Pelissero of USA Today.
(Now would be a good time for full disclosure. I agree with Kluwe, from a social issue standpoint. I agree that people should be afforded the same rights no matter whom they want to marry, or love. I think the kind of words Kluwe claims came from Priefer are criminal hate speech and are the reason why there are not more professional athletes, or regular citizens, who have come out of the closet.)
I agree with Chris Kluwe on a lot of things. The timing of his article isn't one of them. (This is the point where you really have to have read Kluwe's entire piece, as specifics will be heretofore referenced as if you have. It's easier if we're all working with the same context.)
Kluwe wrote his account of what transpired in his final year in Minnesota last spring, but he never published it until three days after Leslie Frazier was fired as head coach of the Vikings.
Now, Kluwe did address the timing, stating that he didn't want his story to be a distraction during the season for his old friends on the team. And yet the same week he says he wrote this back in April he made the same claims in a text to ProFootballTalk. He was already being a distraction, and publishing it over the summer after being released would have likely been less of a distraction than right now.
Granted, if there is any truth to the rumors that Priefer may be a candidate for other jobs, including potential head coaching vacancies, and that's the reason why Kluwe published the article in full now, there is no issue at all with that.
If Kluwe thinks he lost his job over his beliefs, he's trying to make damn sure Priefer can't get a job over his. That's commendable, no matter how many bridges get burned.
Kluwe was not signed by any team this season. He believes he still has the ability to punt in the NFL and his article asserts that the reason he was not signed this year was because of his outspokenness.
I wanted to prove I still had the physical ability to compete in the NFL. I can still hit the ball 45 yards outside the numbers with good hangtime, and at the tryouts I've had this year I've gotten praise from the scouts and personnel people on hand, but for whatever reason I cannot find a job.
Kluwe suggested that his age (32), his salary or his "habit of speaking my mind"—or all of those factors—has led him to believe his NFL career is over. He's right. And since there was not much of a bridge left to burn, Kluwe decided now was the right time to light that match.
I just wonder if there's a little more to his release from the Vikings—and inability to find work this year—than he leads the reader to believe.
Or perhaps there is less to it. Stay with me for a moment.
Frazier, and general manager Rick Spielman for that matter, may be cowards. Priefer, as Kluwe describes him, certainly sounds like a bigot. But Kluwe admits throughout the story that he repeatedly defied the requests of both his boss—the head coach of the team—and the public relations staff.
Kluwe wrote in detail about two meetings with Frazier, one in which the coach tried to work with PR officials to limit Kluwe's media requests to just national and high-profile outlets. Kluwe flat-out denied these requests. This was all taking place during the regular season, by the way, in a year Frazier was on the hottest of all possible coaching seats.
And on top of that Kluwe admits that he was a slightly above-average punter in the league. He was completely and utterly expendable. A quick Internet search for salaries indicated that Kluwe would have made nearly three times what rookie Jeff Locke brought in this season to be a slightly below-average punter. He wasn't worth the headache. It's also worth nothing that Kluwe was in camp with the Raiders this season, but he lost out to Marquette King, who (as Adam Bonin of the DailyKos pointed out via Twitter) led the NFL in punting average this season.
Again, I agree with Kluwe's beliefs on gay marriage and I routinely applaud him for speaking out against those who work to make life harder for some of my friends and family—and millions of others who just want the same basic civil rights as those of us who choose to marry someone of the opposite sex. Having said that, I probably would have cut him too.
Whether you agree with his beliefs or not, Kluwe was a complete and utter distraction for a football coach trying to keep his job. By his own admission, Kluwe refused to work with Frazier or team officials, going so far as to require all media requests to personally go through him. He was, as the saying goes, a loose cannon for the Vikings.
No matter how good he is at kicking a football, no team is going to hire a guy who is outspoken on a divisive issue and refuses to work with team officials, especially when the requests come during the season.
Kluwe may have been released because his position coach is a bigot and his general manager and head coach were cowards. Or he may have been released because he was an average player making too much money who wouldn't stop being a distraction.
Or both. To be honest, it was probably both.
The good thing for Kluwe is that he's proven to be an excellent writer and very good public speaker. There are dozens of advocacy groups who would love for him to be their spokesperson. There are countless media outlets that will be clamoring for his services if he is interested in making this a full-time career.
Kluwe may not be a punter anymore, but he probably won't disappear anytime soon, either.
And hopefully some good will come from his story. After all, shining a light on hatred, bigotry and cowardice is always a good thing, no matter when it happens.