Chris Kluwe (pronounced CLUE-wee) is the NFL punter and LGBT activist who made headlines in 2012 after a letter he wrote to bigot Democratic Maryland delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr. went viral. He didn’t stop being outspoken after that, either, a fact that’s quite courageous considering the NFL ranks only slightly above the Catholic Church when it comes to acceptance of gay people.
Today, in a post for Deadspin, Kluwe explains that his support for LGBT rights, done as a private citizen and not as an NFL representative, may have cost him his job:
On Sept. 8, the head coach of the Vikings, Leslie Frazier, called me into his office after our morning special-teams meeting. I anticipated it would be about the letter (punters aren’t generally called into the principal’s office). Once inside, Coach Frazier immediately told me that I “needed to be quiet, and stop speaking out on this stuff” (referring to my support for same-sex marriage rights). I told Coach Frazier that I felt it was the right thing to do (what with supporting equality and all), and I also told him that one of his main coaching points to us was to be “good men” and to “do the right thing.” He reiterated his fervent desire for me to cease speaking on the subject, stating that “a wise coach once told me there are two things you don’t talk about in the NFL, politics and religion.” I repeated my stance that this was the right thing to do, that equality is not something to be denied anyone, and that I would not promise to cease speaking out. At that point, Coach Frazier told me in a flat voice, “If that’s what you feel you have to do,” and the meeting ended. The atmosphere was tense as I left the room.
[Minnesota Vikings special-teams coordinator] Mike Priefer also said on multiple occasions that I would wind up burning in hell with the gays, and that the only truth was Jesus Christ and the Bible. He said all this in a semi-joking tone, and I responded in kind, as I felt a yelling match with my coach over human rights would greatly diminish my chances of remaining employed. I felt uncomfortable each time Mike Priefer said these things. After all, he was directly responsible for reviewing my job performance, but I hoped that after the vote concluded in Minnesota his behavior would taper off and eventually stop.
On Feb. 11, I received a message saying, “Please fly under radar please,” from a phone number I would later learn belonged to [Vikings general manager] Rick Spielman. The text message presumably concerned several things I had tweeted that day regarding the Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to step down. Spielman later called me and asked me to stop tweeting about the pope because angry people were ringing up team headquarters in Winter Park, Minn. It should be noted that my tweets concerned the lack of transparency and endemic institutional corruption of the Catholic Church, which among other things allowed child abuse to flourish. I also pointed out how that applied equally to financial and government institutions, and reiterated that I had nothing against anyone’s religion, only against the abuses of power that institutions allow.
And now Kluwe is out of a job.
Is it possible this has everything to do with his performance? Possibly, though Kluwe points out that his “numbers from last year would put me right in the middle of the pack for this year, and I’ve traditionally been in the middle to top third of punters each year.”
It seems more likely that the owners and coaches were looking for a reason to get rid of him because of his activism and his numbers weren’t so stellar that they felt pressured to keep him on the roster.
It’s not too dissimilar from the plight of Jason Collins, the NBA player who came out as gay last year. Collins, who can still put up decent numbers but is by no means a superstar, has yet to find an NBA job since coming out.
And while the focus here is on LGBT rights, you have to wonder if the fact that he’s “cheerfully agnostic” also hurt his cause.