On Deadspin today, Chris Kluwe, the NFL punter who was fired from the Minnesota Vikings last year, shares a fascinating story in which he finally admits that he was probably let go for his outspoken support of marriage equality.
The story begins, he writes, when Minnesotans for Marriage Equality approached him about joining their campaign to defeat a proposed amendment that would define marriage as a union between one man and one woman in Minnesota. After clearing it with his team, he agreed to get on board as a spokesman. He made several radio appearances, attended a few dinners and penned a letter blasting Maryland delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr. for stifling the free speech of marriage-equality advocate Brendon Ayanbadejo. That’s when things started to get juicy:
On Sept. 8, the head coach of the Vikings, Leslie Frazier, called me into his office after our morning special-teams meeting. … Once inside, Coach Frazier immediately told me that I “needed to be quiet, and stop speaking out on this stuff” (referring to my support for same-sex marriage rights). I told Coach Frazier that I felt it was the right thing to do (what with supporting equality and all), and I also told him that one of his main coaching points to us was to be “good men” and to “do the right thing.” He reiterated his fervent desire for me to cease speaking on the subject, stating that “a wise coach once told me there are two things you don’t talk about in the NFL, politics and religion.” I repeated my stance that this was the right thing to do, that equality is not something to be denied anyone, and that I would not promise to cease speaking out. At that point, Coach Frazier told me in a flat voice, “If that’s what you feel you have to do,” and the meeting ended. The atmosphere was tense as I left the room.
Despite a show of support from some members of his team — includingVikings owner Zygi Wilf — Kluwe was continuously urged to stop advocating for marriage equality. He pays particularly close attention to special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer, who began throwing around anti-gay slurs in Kluwe’s presence, even going so far to say, “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.”
Kluwe says he continued to be targeted by Priefer, who frequently marked him for negative scores on a “Production Point” sheet for punts that had previously been marked positive. And other coaches sat idly while it happened. In the end, Kluwe flat out says 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, 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.”
He closes with a bone-chilling revelation that his career in the NFL is likely over because of his support for gay marriage:
It’s clear to me that no matter how much I want to prove I can play, I will no longer punt in the NFL, especially now that I’ve written this account. Whether it’s my age, my minimum veteran salary, my habit of speaking my mind, or (most likely) a combination of all three, my time as a football player is done. Punters are always replaceable, at least in the minds of those in charge, and I realize that in advocating noisily for social change I only made it easier for them to justify not having me around. So it goes.
Some will ask if the NFL has a problem with institutionalized homophobia. I don’t think it does. I think there are homophobic people in the NFL, in all positions, but that’s true for society as well, and those people eventually get replaced. All we can do is try to expose their behavior when we see it and call them to account for their actions.
Read the rest of the story at Deadspin.