The slow but well-intentioned efforts the National Football League has been taking, along with other professional sports leagues, to eradicate homophobia from the field and the locker room were shaken up by an
op-ed published on Deadspin Thursday
in which former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe suggested his release from the team last year was because of his outspoken support of marriage equality.The Vikings responded
with a statement
saying that Kluwe's public stances had no bearing on the decision to release him and only his football abilities were involved.
Some sports pundits
are giving the Vikings the benefit of the doubt, pointing to Kluwe's contract situation and less than stellar performance in the 2012-2013 season. (Throughout the Deadspin article, Kluwe said his punting abilities were in line with his past seasons and did not warrant his dismissal). The cloud of doubt whether Kluwe's political views had anything to do with his dismissal is one of
why speaking out for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender equality and other issues is so tricky for athletes in the first place."There is an ever-present awareness that your ability to play the game you love is being determined by people who will always have just cause to fire you if you're not breaking all the records," says Hudson Taylor, founder and executive director of Athlete Ally, which mobilizes straight athletes to speak out in support of the LGBT community.[
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]But the circumstances of his release are only one of the allegations Kluwe makes attracting attention. He places the blame squarely on the Viking's special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, whom he calls a bigot, as well as the team's head coach, Leslie Frazier, and its general manager, Rick Spielman, who he calls cowards for not standing up to Priefer. According to Kluwe, Priefer made a number of homophobic statements to him, particularly after Kluwe began to publicly campaign gay marriage.
Mike Priefer, in one of the meanest voices I can ever recall hearing, said: "We should round up all the gays, send them to an island and then nuke it until it glows."Notably the Vikings statement doesn't address the accusations Kluwe made against Priefer specifically. Priefer has been considered one of the top candidates to be the next Vikings head coach, after Frazier was fired Monday at the end of the team's 5-10-1 season."We take [Kluwe's allegations] very seriously and will thoroughly review this matter," said the Vikings' statement on Kluwe's accusations."I think that [Kluwe's story] is just a realization that there is a lot more work to be done -- specifically around the coaching side of things," Taylor says.Priefer "vehemently" denied Kluwe's allegations
in a statement Thursday
."I want to be clear that I do not tolerate discrimination of any type and am respectful of all individuals. I personally have gay family members who I love and support just as I do any family member," he said.Some Vikings players also rushed to Priefer's side. Kicker
Brian Walsh said
in a statement, "The allegations made today are reprehensible and totally not compatible with what Mike Priefer stands for."Jeff Locke, who replaced Kluwe as punter, defended Priefer on Twitter:
(1/2) In my short time with the Vikings, Coach Priefer has treated me with respect and has helped me develop as a player and person. — Jeff Locke (@jefflocke18)
January 2, 2014
(2/2) I have never witnessed any actions or statements by Coach Priefer similar to those described in the recent Deadspin article. — Jeff Locke (@jefflocke18)
January 2, 2014
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Whether Kluwe's allegations are true or not they, push the issue of intolerance on the football field back to the forefront after what has been a troubling year for the NFL. Kluwe wrote that he didn't think his situation was a problem of "institutionalized homophobia" in the NFL, but a matter of individual homophobic people who need to be replaced. Taylor said the NFL has made great strides in making the league more gay-friendly.