The matter of former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe and his allegations against the organization, and specifically special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, have been the ultimate sports radio talker the last few days. You’re probably aware of the allegations, but here’s a quick summary of what happened, according to Kluwe’s account:
- In the summer of 2012, Kluwe received permission from the Vikings legal department to participate in the campaign against the amendment that would have defined marriage as between one man and one woman.
- When Kluwe went public with his letter to a Maryland delegate regarding his actions towards Baltimore Ravens player Brendon Ayanbadejo, then-head coach Leslie Frazier told Kluwe to keep quiet about the issue. Kluwe and Frazier had an additional meeting on this topic, and later, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman told Kluwe to “fly under the radar” regarding some comments Kluwe had made about the Catholic Church.
- Most explosively, Kluwe said that special teams coordinator Mike Priefer — in the wake of Kluwe’s activism on the marriage equality issue — used homophobic language on several occasions during the 2012 season. Priefer allegedly told Kluwe he would burn in hell, and at one point he is accused of saying, “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.”
- Kluwe believes that his activism was a critical factor in his replacement as Vikings punter, as his performance was little changed from previous years
As is often the case in such issues, the reaction to such comments is more illuminating than the comments themselves. Let’s look at some of these criticisms. The most prominent critic of Kluwe’s actions in the local media has been KSTP 1500-AM’s Jeff Dubay. On Friday’s program, Dubay offered his criticisms of Kluwe and made some controversial comments on Twitter, detailed here, and more substantively here. Allow me to quickly summarize the key arguments Dubay made against Kluwe:
- Kluwe is a hypocrite by being in favor free expression when it comes to being in favor of gay marriage but wants to shut it down for folks like Priefer. Dubay also criticizes those who support Kluwe, alleging that such criticism of Preifer’s views leads us down the path towards Nazism or fascism
- Kluwe is a fraud for not saying something when statements occurred
- Kluwe is consumed with anger and bitterness over Priefer’s role in Kluwe being cut by the Vikings
- Kluwe’s activism played little role in his being cut from the Vikings; it had more to do with his fading performance and high salary for a punter
Let’s start from the bottom up. I would agree that Kluwe’s activism was probably not the primary factor in the decision to cut him and replace him with Jeff Locke. The Vikings cleared about $900,000 in cap room by moving from Kluwe to Locke.
Evaluating Kluwe’s 2012 Punting Performance
Kluwe was an average performer at the punter position – his gross and net punting averages consistently came in the middle-third of NFL punters throughout his Vikings career. However, it’s not clear at all that Kluwe’s performance faded in 2012 from previous years like many claim. One frequently cited number to point to Kluwe’s decline is his ranking of 31st among NFL punters in kicks downed inside the 20 yard line. Only 18 of Kluwe’s 72 punts trapped opposing teams inside their own 20. However, Kluwe’s gross and net punting averages in 2012 were both above his career averages, and his touchbacks were at a career low. So, how could this be? The answer is simple: field position.
Let’s compare Kluwe against Green Bay punter Tim Masthay, who had 30 of his 70 punts downed inside the 20 in 2012 by the field position they kicked from:
|Punter||Opposing Territory||Own 40-49||Own 30-39||Own 20-29||Own 1-19||Total|
Fully one-half of Kluwe’s 72 punts came when the Vikings had the ball inside their own 30 yard line, which makes it extremely unlikely that the ball will be downed deep in opposition territory. On the other hand, Masthay had over half of his punts from the Green Bay 40 and in, making it much more likely to achieve success on this metric. Masthay was also more efficient inside opposing territory than Kluwe. But Kluwe’s low ranking on this metric in 2012 was more a function of the Vikings’ erratic offense than from slippage in performance.
Kluwe’s Anger and Bitterness: Is He A Fraud?
There’s no doubt that Kluwe is angry over how things went down with the Vikings. Does his desire for revenge against Priefer discredit his comments? Does the fact that he didn’t do anything at the time discredit what he has to say now? Dubay would have you think so. But I disagree. Dubay points out both on the program and on Twitter that Kluwe styles himself as an “activist” and wasn’t afraid to speak out on other matters, including his concerns about player safety when the Vikings were forced to play at TCF Bank Stadium following the 2010 Metrodome collapse.
An individual’s activism is always balanced by practical concerns. For Kluwe, he was concerned about his ability to continue his career as an NFL punter. Kluwe rightly reasoned that his tenure with the Vikings was on thin ice, and frontally challenging his position coach by going over his head to Frazier, Spielman, team owner Zygi Wilf, or the team’s human resource department would have not only likely meant the end to his Vikings career, but also the end to his NFL career.
The same NFL locker room culture that brings some people to downplay comments like those Preifer made (Dubay asked if Kluwe was going to chase down everybody who ever made a homophobic comment in a NFL locker room) also would have targeted Kluwe if he had done such a thing. It would have likely fractured the Vikings locker room in the middle of a promising season — just consider the example in the Miami Dolphins locker room this season with the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin bullying allegations.
What matters the most here is not the timing of Kluwe’s allegations or the motivation behind them, but rather the veracity of them. If Kluwe is telling the truth about what Priefer said, then there are real issues here that need to be addressed by the Vikings organization. I suspect (and hope) that Priefer doesn’t really hold the more extreme beliefs expressed in Kluwe’s account, and that if he said them, he was just trying to get under Kluwe’s skin. But even so, that’s just not an acceptable way to do so. Certainly we wouldn’t accept a football coach calling his players the n-word to rile them up. And, the only way to change NFL locker room culture is to start holding the people who engage in its unacceptable excesses accountable for their actions.
Who is losing their voice here?
Where things really went south for Dubay was his Twitter comment from above: “The mindset of moral high ground can dismiss other beliefs leads to nazi mentality.” Dubay indicates that he didn’t invoke the Nazis on his own, but was responding to a tweet that was subsequently deleted. Let’s start off by saying that Dubay, who trumpets his 152 I.Q., needs to be smarter than to fall for the Nazi comparison trap. Worse, though, is the insinuation that confronting views like those Priefer is accused of expressing is the first step down the road to Nazism or fascism. Like the Nazis were just a group of political correctness police that went off the rails? The problem with the Nazis wasn’t that they were insensitive to other people’s beliefs, rather they systematically denied the humanity of others — Jews and homosexuals principally among them — and took active steps to wipe them off the face of the planet. The only similar such expression in this whole kerfuffle didn’t come from people defending Kluwe or attacking Priefer. It came from Priefer’s alleged statement that “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.”
No one is silencing Mike Priefer or saying he doesn’t have the right to his views (whatever they may be). What people are saying is that if he said these things, he should answer for them. Just as any boss in any cube farm would have to answer for them if made in that context. The irony, of course, is that the whole point of the pressure from the Vikings organization — from Frazier to Spielman to Priefer — was to silence Chris Kluwe.
So Dubay is saying Mike Priefer has the right to use his statements to try to silence Chris Kluwe, but Kluwe is a bad guy for responding in kind. No one’s voice has been silenced here, and we’re no closed to fascism or Nazism than we were before.
Dubay needs to take a deep breath and exchange in the actual debate he says he wants instead of going to the mat to tar those who disagree with them. Not everyone is out to take cheap shots at his history or his political views.