Friday, January 3, 2014

Kluweless in Minnesota.

It's the story of a professional athlete, but not of his performance on the field of play.

It's about the power of spin, but also about allegations no amount of spinning can remedy.

For eight years, Chris Kluwe was punter for the Minnesota Vikings. Punter is the strangest position on a football team. He can't score points, he doesn't block people or tackle people. His job is to kick the ball high enough and far enough to give the human missiles on his team enough time to launch themselves into the punt returner's most vulnerable sweetbreads.

Kluwe was good; few punters play eight seasons, let alone with the same team. At the end of the 2012 campaign, he was statistically one of the best in the game, still had a year left on his contract and felt good about his chances of hanging with the team for another year.

Then things went a bit sideways. Here's how it started, courtesy of Chris Kluwe's guest column for Deadspin:

"During the summer of 2012, I was approached by a group called Minnesotans for Marriage Equality, which asked if I would be interested in helping defeat what was known as the Minnesota Gay Marriage Amendment. The proposed amendment would have defined marriage as "only a union of one man and one woman." (It was voted down, and same-sex marriage is now legal in Minnesota.) I said yes, but that I would have to clear it with the team first. 

"After talking to the Vikings legal department, I was given the go-ahead to speak on the issue as long as I made it clear I was acting as a private citizen, not as a spokesman for the Vikings, which I felt was fair and complied with. I did several radio advertisements and a dinner appearance for Minnesotans for Marriage Equality. No one from the Vikings' legal department told me I was doing anything wrong or that I had to stop."

According to Kluwe, at the beginning of the 2012 football season, he was summoned to head coach Leslie Frazier's woodshed and told to keep his pie hole shut, that religion and politics should play no role in professional sports.

Kluwe respectfully told Frazier that he intended to continue standing up for his beliefs, and the meeting ended tensely. However, the following day,

"Viking owner  Zygi Wilf, came up to me, shook my hand, and told me: 'Chris, I'm proud of what you've done. Please feel free to keep speaking out. I just came from my son's best friend's wedding to his partner in New York, and it was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.'"

I think I'd feel pretty good at this point, wouldn't you? The guy who signs your paycheck tells you he's simpatico with what you're doing and you should keep it up.

Ummm...not so much. That's when another one of Kluwe's bosses, special teams coach Mike Priefer, decided to start acting like an actual Viking. You know, those guys whose idea of a fun Friday night is a few pints of grog over at the disembowling alley.

Sorry, Viking jokes are challenging.

Anyway, according to Kluwe, this Coach Preifer started harassing him about his views at practice, at one point even announcing during a team meeting, "We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows."

Sounds reasonable, but I wish he'd be more specific about the island. I live within nuclear fallout radius of quite a few and my straight friends and I would appreciate a little heads up from the Thomas Edison of that light bulb.

What do you think? Is Chris Kluwe telling the truth? Was he released from the Minnesota Vikings due to his political beliefs? The team claims it was a business decision, that an aging punter was released to make room under their salary cap.

That may be true, but what about the alleged behavior of his coaches? Do you believe that Kluwe could conceivably have fabricated these allegations as part of an endgame, a devious master plan to showcase his activism on its largest stage yet?

Look, we all know that the NFL packs more testosterone-infused sausage than the meat department of a freaking Super Wal-Mart. But these players are a bunch of kids, and most of them are quite a bit more accommodating to other points of view than we, the elder class. Something tells me they wouldn't have nearly the problem that these dinosaur coaches have.

Bigotry will never disappear, but we can shrink it, we can shrivel it up, one purple-hat-wearing moron at a time. If, according to a study by the New York Times, five percent of American males are gay, that translates to two or three players per professional football team, or a total of sixty to ninety closeted athletes living in fear of their employers.

Imagine that happening where you work.

I believe Chris Kluwe.

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