Chris Kluwe's days with the Minnesota Vikings ended, for all intents and purposes, when the franchise selected fellow punter Jeff Locke in Round 5 of the 2013 draft. Kluwe then was released in May, briefly latched on with the Raiders in the preseason and then spent the season a free agent -- his eight-year NFL career looking all but over.
In a scathing column on Deadspin posted Thursday, Kluwe revealed his belief that not everything was above board regarding his Minnesota release. Kluwe, an outspoken gay-rights advocate, railed against his former team, and in particular special teams coach Mike Priefer. According to Kluwe, ex-Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier was uncomfortable with Kluwe's vocal stance.
"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 [general manager] 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."
Kluwe recounted in detail a series of events he alleges occurred beginning in the summer of 2012, when he agreed to work in support of Minnesotans for Marriage Equality.
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."
Frazier was let go by the team earlier this week, after a 5-10-1 season. Kluwe did make a point to mention that team owner Zygi Wilf voiced his support for Kluwe's public stance.
Update (4:30 p.m. ET): The Vikings released a statement in response to Kluwe's comment, which read:
"The Minnesota Vikings were made aware of Chris Kluwe’s allegations for the first time today. We take them very seriously and will thoroughly review this matter.
As an organization, the Vikings consistently strive to create a supportive, respectful and accepting environment for all of our players, coaches and front office personnel. We do not tolerate discrimination at any level. The team has long respected our players’ and associates’ individual rights, and, as Chris specifically stated, Vikings ownership supports and promotes tolerance, including on the subject of marriage equality. Because he was identified with the Vikings, Chris was asked to be respectful while expressing his opinions. Team ownership and management also repeatedly emphasized to Chris that the Vikings would not impinge on his right to express his views.
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.
We will have further comment at the appropriate time."
Most of Kluwe's anger appears to be directed at Priefer, who remains on the Vikings' staff as it awaits a new head coach.
Throughout the months of September, October, and November, Minnesota Vikings special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer would use homophobic language in my presence. He had not done so during minicamps or fall camp that year, nor had he done so during the 2011 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.
Near the end of November, several teammates and I were walking into a specialist meeting with Coach Priefer. ... We were laughing over one of the recent articles I had written supporting same-sex marriage rights, and one of my teammates made a joking remark about me leading the Pride parade. As we sat down in our chairs, Mike Priefer, in one of the meanest voices I can ever recall hearing, said: "We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows."
Update, 6:30 p.m. ET: Priefer has issued a statement of his own on this matter, per ESPN.com's Ben Goessling.
"I vehemently deny today’s allegations made by Chris Kluwe.
'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 primary reason I entered coaching was to affect people in a positive way. As a coach, I have always created an accepting environment for my players, including Chris, and have looked to support them both on and off the field.
"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.
"I will continue to work hard for the Minnesota Vikings, the Wilf family and all of our loyal fans."
Back in June, Priefer refused to go into specifics about Kluwe's release, but said he felt "very strongly" that the Vikings needed to part ways with the punter.
"It was more consistency and productivity," Priefer said in a response to a question about what factors, statistical or otherwise, contributed to the decision.
Asked if Kluwe could have improved his production, Priefer said simply, "I just felt like we needed to make a change there."
..."A lot of people like to write and report that he and I didn't get along," Priefer said. "I have a lot of respect for Chris Kluwe. I think, based on what he's done in his career, as a man and as an athlete, and for anybody that stands up for what he believes in like Chris did, I have a lot of respect for guys like that."