The Minnesota Vikings have responded to allegations from former punter Chris Kluwe, who wrote an article for the web site deadspin.com that was published Thursday calling special teams coordinator Mike Priefer a "bigot" and general manager Rick Spielman and former head coach Leslie Frazier "cowards."
Kluwe said his relationship with the Vikings' decision-makers started to unravel in the summer of 2012 after he agreed to be a spokesman for the organization Minnesota for Marriage Equality to speak out against a gay marriage amendment looking to define marriage as a union "between one man and one woman," which became a hot-button topic in state politics last year.
Kluwe said he talked with the Vikings legal department before accepting the position and was given the go-ahead as long as he "made it clear I was acting as a private citizen, not as a spokesman for the Vikings."
But the day after an open letter he wrote on Deadspin blasting Maryland delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr., Kluwe says he was called into Frazier's office and told he "needed to be quiet, and stop speaking out on this stuff."
The next day, Kluwe said owner Zygi Wilf approached him and had a different message: "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."
About a week later, Kluwe said he found out that the Vikings had been withholding media requests and approached director of public relations Bob Hagan about the situation, who, according to Kluwe, told him he was trying to protect him from being overwhelmed with requests.
But Kluwe's harshest criticisms were waged against Priefer, his special teams coordinator, who Kluwe asserted used homophobic language numerous times in his presence.
"He would ask me if I 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," Kluwe wrote in his article published Thursday. "I tried to laugh these off while also responding with the notion that perhaps they were human beings who deserved to be treated as human beings. 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."
The most damaging quote that Kluwe alleged came from Priefer: "We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows."
Priefer issued a statement saying he "vehemently" denied Kluwe's allegations.
"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," Priefer said in the statement.
"The primary reason I entered coaching was to affect people in a positive way. As a coach, I have always created an accepting environment for my players, including Chris, and have looked to support them both on and off the field.
The comments today have not only attacked my character and insulted my professionalism, but they have also impacted my family. While my career focus is to be a great professional football coach, my number one priority has always been to be a protective husband and father to my wife and children.
Kluwe made it through the 2012 season with the Vikings but said he found out on May 6, 2013, that he was being released during a meeting with Spielman. He said Spielman and Frazier both complimented him on his job performance.
"It's my belief, based on everything that happened over the course of 2012, that I was fired by Mike Priefer, a bigot who didn't agree with the cause I was working for, and two cowards, Leslie Frazier and Rick Spielman, both of whom knew I was a good punter and would remain a good punter for the foreseeable future, as my numbers over my eight-year career had shown, but who lacked the fortitude to disagree with Mike Priefer on a touchy subject matter," Kluwe wrote.
The Vikings responded Thursday afternoon with their own statement:
"The Minnesota Vikings were made aware of Chris Kluwe's allegations for the first time today. We take them very seriously and will thoroughly review this matter.
"As an organization, the Vikings consistently strive to create a supportive, respectful and accepting environment for all of our players, coaches and front office personnel. We do not tolerate discrimination at any level.
"The team has long respected our players' and associates' individual rights, and, as Chris specifically stated, Vikings ownership supports and promotes tolerance, including on the subject of marriage equality. Because he was identified with the Vikings, Chris was asked to be respectful while expressing his opinions. Team ownership and management also repeatedly emphasized to Chris that the Vikings would not impinge on his right to express his views.
"Any notion that Chris was released from our football team due to his stance on marriage equality is entirely inaccurate and inconsistent with team policy. Chris was released strictly based on his football performance.
"We will have further comment at the appropriate time."
The topic quickly exploded in the Twin Cities area.
According to a Twitter trends map, topics related to Kluwe's allegations Thursday against the Minnesota Vikings organization held five of the top 10 trends in the area Thursday afternoon and none of them were flattering for the organization.
The hastag "#vikings" was second on the top-10 list and the only one of the top four entries. But the next six – @chriswarcraft, kluwe, bigot, Henderson, erin and cowards – were all related to news of the day after linebacker Erin Henderson was arrested Wednesday on charges of DWI and Kluwe's scathing article.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Vikings respond to Kluwe's allegations
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