Former NFL punter Chris Kluwe has accused the Minnesota Vikings of releasing him in May because of his advocacy for LGBT rights, and accused at least one assistant coach of making a number of bigoted comments.
In a post published on Deadspin today, Kluwe wrote, "I honestly don't know if my activism was the reason I got fired. However, I'm pretty confident it was."
Kluwe details a damning chain of events that 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."
In a press release this afternoon, the Vikings vigorously denied Kluwe was cut because of his work with LGBT rights groups.
"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," the Vikings said in the release. "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."
Frazier, who was fired by the Vikings last week after going 20-31 in little more than three seasons as head coach, wasn't immediately available for comment.
Former Baltimore linebacker and special teams star Brendon Ayabadejo, who is also a prominent advocate for LGBT rights, quickly rallied to Kluwe's defense on Twitter:
Wade Davis, a former NFL player and executive director for the You Can Play Project, an advocacy organization working to eradicate homophobia in professional sports, said he was out of town and unable to comment.
Patrick Burke, president of the You Can Play Project and player safety director for the NHL, deleted earlier tweets that some construed as questioning Kluwe's version of events. In a statement to BuzzFeed on Thursday, Burke clarified his earlier remarks.
"We're not saying this is OK, and we're not saying Chris should have been quiet about it. All we're saying is we do not want to see people take this incident and make it seem like you get cut for being gay-friendly in the NFL. That's not the story here," Burke said. "This is a story of a totally unacceptable, horrific, and (we hope) atypical incident based on some pretty unique circumstances. We want it to be handled correctly and swiftly by the NFL, but do not want other athletes to feel like their outspokenness would cost them their job."
Kluwe, who was also released by the Oakland Raiders in the preseason, hasn't said anything publicly since directing his Twitter followers to his post.
Update - Jan. 2, 7:45 p.m., ET: Minnesota State Sen. Scott Dibble calls for investigation.
Former Minnesota Viking's punter Chris Kluwe made a number of serious statements about the events leading up to his release from the team. He recently wrote an account supporting his view that the Vikings organization terminated his contract due to his views on gay marriage and willingness to be an advocate for greater freedom and equality for the LGBT community.
State Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minn.) released the following statement in response to Kluwe's account:
"In Chris Kluwe's eight years with the Vikings, not only was he an outstanding contributor to the team on the field – setting several team records— he was also a tremendous contributor off the field, for his advocacy for freedom and dignity for all Minnesotans. His decision to publicly announce his opposition to the marriage amendment came at a critical time, when many in similar positions of leadership were afraid. His energy and humor helped give momentum to supporters of equality and helped ensure defeat of the marriage amendment.
Kluwe's allegations raise very serious concerns about the culture within the Minnesota Vikings organization. As a business partner of the state of Minnesota, we have strong expectations that the team uphold the values of tolerance and equality that we all share. I am encouraged to some degree by the team's statement in response, but the charges warrant a thorough investigation. If shown to be true, decisive action must be taken.
I am pleased to know that team owner Zygi Wilf supports marriage equality, and I hope he will use his position as the head of this organization to foster an atmosphere that allows the Minnesota Vikings to accept and value all of its players and coaches."
Update - Jan. 2, 9 p.m., ET: Priefer issues a statement.
Priefer addressed Kluwe's allegations in a written statement released to several Vikings beat writers this evening.