In news that will likely be shocking to no one, it turns out that rampant anti-homosexual employment discrimination exists even in the world of professional sports. On January 2 of this year, former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe alleged in an article to Deadspin.com that he was cut from the Vikings, and subsequently blackballed in the NFL, due to his willingness to publicly support gay marriage. Although Kluwe is not gay himself, he has repeatedly spoken out in favor of gay marriage in multiple venues. He did so through radio advertisements and public appearances, and did so with the explicit approval of the Minnesota Vikings. But on September 7, 2012, a letter he wrote to Maryland State Representative Emmett C. Burns, Jr. precipitated a troubling season for Kluwe. Burns had just written a letter demanding that a Baltimore Ravens player, Brendon Ayenbadejo, immediately “cease and desist” in his own public support of gay marriage. Kluwe responded to Burns with his own letter, using very colorful language that will not be repeated in this post, and the very next day he was asked by the team to halt his public support of gay marriage.
In the three months that followed this meeting, Kluwe was repeatedly confronted by members of the team’s staff, including their public relations personnel and even the head coach at the time, Leslie Frazier, and asked to put a halt to his publicity barrage. Each time, he refused, believing that he was doing the right thing, and so he continued to speak out in favor of gay marriage.
Unfortunately, this attempt to stifle Kluwe’s speech was not limited to just the team’s front office. In fact, the treatment was significantly worse on the football field. Throughout the season, Vikings Special Teams Coordinator, Mike Priefer, who was essentially Kluwe’s first level coach, repeatedly verbally harassed Kluwe during practice. Priefer would ask if Kluwe “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.” In another meeting, Priefer actually stated “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.” Priefer also began to give Kluwe negative performance evaluations during team meetings for conduct that previously received positive evaluations. All in all, Kluwe’s season was one filled with consistent harassment and abuse, simply because he stood up against intolerance and discrimination.
Sadly for Kluwe, this season turned out to be the last of his professional career. In May 2013, he was informed that he was being cut from the team. The team claimed the move was made because they wanted to use a new punter they had just drafted, and had nothing to do with his views on gay marriage, but their claim does not hold water in light of the fact that Kluwe was, statistically speaking, the best punter in Vikings history, and had performed just as well in 2012 as he had in his entire career with the team. In subsequent tryouts for other teams, scouts raved to him about his abilities, but then also decided to not retain his services for the 2013 season. A pattern emerged where he performed as well or better than his competition, but was still passed over for every open job in the league. Clearly, Kluwe’s inability to find a job in the last year makes it difficult to reach any other conclusion but that the NFL currently values keeping quiet on social issues over winning.