In a scathing screed published online this week, former NFL player and gay rights activist Chris Kluwe accused top members of staff at the Minnesota Vikings of firing him because of his vocal support for same-sex marriage. The team, however, has since come forward to say the decision had nothing to do with Kluwe's views.
Published Thursday on Deadspin, Kluwe's post alleges that he was "fired by [Special Teams Coordinator] Mike Priefer, a bigot who didn't agree with the cause I was working for, and two cowards, [then-Head Coach] Leslie Frazier and [General Manager] Rick Spielman [...] who lacked the fortitude to disagree with Mike Priefer on a touchy subject matter."
Kluwe, who was punter for the Vikings for eight seasons before being let go in May, says his trouble with the team's leadership began in 2012 when he began speaking up for same-sex marriage.
At the time, Kluwe, working closely with the LGBT rights group Minnesotans for Marriage Equality, fought to defeat the Minnesota Gay Marriage Amendment, which sought to define marriage as being between a man and woman in the state's constitution. (Voters eventually voted against the amendment and same-sex marriage has since been legalized in Minnesota).
That year, Kluwe made headlines after writing a blistering open letter to Maryland state delegate Emmett Burns, in which he blasted the politician for his "vitriolic hatred and bigotry." Burns had previously written a letter to Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, in which he demanded that Brendon Ayanbadejo, who was the Ravens' linebacker at the time, be stopped from publicly endorsing same-sex marriage.
According to Kluwe's recent post on Deadspin, then-Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier approached him the day after his letter was published and asked him "to be quiet, and stop speaking out on this stuff." (Frazier, incidentally, was fired from the Vikings Monday following the team's 5-10-1 season.)
In the days and months that followed that first incident, Kluwe says that he was not only approached on different occasions by Frazier and Spielman with similar requests to be silent, but he was also ridiculed and treated unfairly by Special-Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer.
Kluwe also alleges that Priefer often used anti-gay language in front of him and the team. "We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows," Kluwe quotes Priefer as saying at a November team meeting.
After Kluwe was cut from the Vikings, speculation was rife as to whether the punter had been fired over his views on gay rights. The athlete, however, was careful with his comments at the time.
“I honestly don’t know because I’m not in those meetings,” Kluwe said in a May radio interview with HuffPost Gay Voices' Editor-at-large Michelangelo Signorile when asked if he thought he had been let go because of his activism.
In his Deadspin post this week, however, Kluwe was slightly more direct. "I honestly don't know if my activism was the reason I got fired," he wrote. "However, I'm pretty confident it was."
On Thursday afternoon, the Minnesota Vikings released a statement slamming the athlete's allegations. The response reads, in part:
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.
Visit Deadspin to read Kluwe's full post, entitled "I Was An NFL Player Until I Was Fired By Two Cowards And A Bigot."