One of Chris Kluwe’s former teammates has come out in support of the Minnesota Vikings’ front office and coaching staff after Kluwe accused them of releasing him because of his advocacy for LGBT issues.
“Contrary to Chris’ statements, they have promoted a workplace environment that was conducive for success,” Vikings placekicker Blair Walsh said in a written statement. “At no time did I ever feel suppressed or that I could not be myself.”
In a post on Deadspin yesterday, Kluwe laid out a chain of events that he claims led to his eventual release, starting in the summer of 2012 when he was approached for assistance by a Minnesota-based group called Minnesotans for Marriage Equality. He said a day after Deadspin published a letter he’d written to Maryland delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr. “chastising him for trampling the free-speech rights of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo,” then-Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier called him in for a meeting to discourage him from speaking out about his support for same-sex marriage rights.
Kluwe also said Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer started using homophobic language in his presence and singled him out for verbal abuse despite little change in his on-field performance. Kluwe alleges Priefer, in a meeting with players, said, “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.”
Walsh, who was a teammate with Kluwe for only one season — 2012, defended Priefer but didn’t explicitly refute Kluwe’s specific claims.
“I have had countless conversations and interactions with Coach Priefer, and I personally can attest to his integrity and character,” Walsh said. “His professionalism in the workplace is exemplary, and I firmly believe that my teammates would whole-heartedly agree. The allegations made today are reprehensible and totally not compatible with what Mike Priefer stands for.”
The Vikings declined to make long snapper Cullen Loeffler, who once teamed with Kluwe and former kicker Ryan Longwell to make one of the longest-serving special teams trios in the league, available for comment.
Longwell, who was the Vikings’ kicker until 2011, also wasn’t immediately available for comment. But a couple of days ago on Twitter, Longwell spoke up on behalf of Frazier, who was fired last week as the Vikings’ head coach after little more than three seasons.
Kluwe expounded on his Deadspin post yesterday in an interview with Vocativ, saying that his work for LGBT equality made him expendable in the NFL.
“It’s just very much because you are replaceable in the NFL. It’s also [that] the NFL as a whole frowns on anything that is not the NFL. They want players to be quiet, they want players to go out, play the game, and think about football from the time they wake up to the time they go to sleep,” Kluwe said. “It’s such a corporate mind-set in America. It’s not just the NFL, it’s everywhere else—you hear about people who screw up at their job and get themselves fired. We view the pursuit of money as more important than the pursuit of human rights.”
Former NFL player Brendon Ayanbadejo, who is also a prominent advocate for LGBT issues, echoed Kluwe’s comments in an interview with TMZ.
“I knew some of those things were happening. And I’d had heard that Kluwe had basically talked himself out of Minnesota before they released him,” Ayanbadejo said. “But for him to reveal some of the stuff— the homophobic language. And basically the same thing that happened to him happened to me last year with Delegate Burns from Baltimore who told me to cease and desist. They basically told him to cease and desist and be silent and he said he wasn’t going to do that.”
Patrick Burke, president of the You Can Play Project and player safety director for the NHL, said that he’d been in touch with Kluwe after some earlier tweets that some perceived as less-than supportive of Kluwe.
“Great email exchange with Chris Kluwe over the past hour or so. Definitely appreciate his article more having heard more from him,” Burke tweeted late last night. “I (obviously, I hope) think Chris raised valid concerns and after hearing more about his motivations, I’m glad he did. His methods are not my methods, but he isn’t me, so who cares. I should not have presented myself in a way that appeared to be against what he did just because I would have handled it differently. There was a massive misunderstanding about what I was trying to express and what was expressed. My concern was for the fallout for other players who wanted to speak out. I still think NFL players should know that they CAN speak out in a variety of ways on LGBT (or other social issues).”
Burke also said his group had been in contact with the NFL.