The current Chris Kluwe controversy — in which the former Vikings punter accuses the Vikings special teams coordinator of making violently anti-gay remarks and of having him cut for his political activism — is deceptively complex.
Even though Leslie Frazier has been removed as head coach (and quickly landed the defensive coordinator’s job with Tampa Bay), the assistant coach in question, Mike Priefer, remains with the team. Indeed, at least before Kluwe took his version of the story public, Priefer was regarded as a potential successor to Frazier.
Kluwe’s bombshell piece, published last week on the Deadspin website and quickly the most-read piece in the site’s history, brought a denial from the coach and a well-publicized hiring by the team of two prominent lawyers to look into the matter.
Hiring the likes of Eric Magnuson (former chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court) and Chris Madel (former U.S. Department of Justice trial attorney) does not come cheap, and certainly suggests the team’s ownership takes Kluwe’s accusations seriously.
At the same time, Magnuson and Madel don’t have subpoena power. And it is quite possible that the investigation will be inconclusive. But the Vikings should be credited nonetheless for addressing the issue with top notch investigators who will likely make their conclusions, whatever they may be, with a certain amount of credibility.
Launching their own internal investigation will probably save the Vikings from the kind of league-run probe that is dragging on with the Miami Dolphins in the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin bullying scandal.
It is possible to construct a football-only rationale for the Vikings release of Kluwe after the 2012 season. It is also likely that Kluwe’s political activism played a role not only with the Vikings cutting him, but with his inability to land another punting job.
NFL coaches, as a rule, regard placekickers and punters as disposable. NFL coaches, as a rule, regard any moment not spent on football as wasted, and almost any public attention as a “distraction.”
Kluwe knew all that, and he chose to take a high-profile role in the 2012 campaign against the marriage amendment anyway. It would be naive to believe that decision did not hurt his job status.
There is a parallel to be drawn with the “Duck Dynasty” controversy, in which the A&E cable channel first suspended, then reinstated, reality show star Phil Robertson after he made comments about gays and blacks in an interview.
Here’s Kluwe on the Robertson parallel, from an NPR interview this week:
“I never said the Vikings couldn’t fire me for (advocating for same-sex marriage rights). As a private corporation, they totally have the right to do that. ... Same with Phil Robertson. We both are entitled to our beliefs. We’re both entitled to our views and we’re allowed to speak out on those views. However, we are both also entitled to the consequences of those views.”
A&E reinstated Robertson because he is essential to the most popular show the cable channel has ever had. Kluwe is teamless because he is readily replaceable and a “distraction.” But he also veers into self promotion a bit every time he makes a new allegation without a willingness to take it further in some way (as a witness for some kind of league probe or discrimination suit?).
Meanwhile, the NFL (and the rest of America’s popular team sports) has not a single out-of-the-closet active gay player. It is statistically impossible that there are no homosexuals in professional locker rooms. It is, perhaps, equally impossible professionally for closeted gay players to come out of hiding.
Doing so, after all, would make them a “distraction.”