Updated: 01/02/2014 8:05 PM KSTP.com By: Leslie Dyste
Former Minnesota punter Chris Kluwe says his special teams coordinator made anti-gay comments while Kluwe was with the Vikings, an allegation the coach "vehemently denies."
Kluwe wrote an article calling Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer a "bigot" while calling former coach Leslie Frazier and Vikings general manager Rick Spielman "cowards."
During his eight years with the Vikings, Kluwe earned a reputation as one of the most opinionated players in the league. He criticized union leadership during the lockout, wore a patch on his uniform to protest the lack of punters in the Hall of Fame and, most notably, became a vocal supporter of gay rights, penning a number of thoughtful, and occasionally profane, columns on the issue for various websites.
In the article posted on deadspin.com titled "I Was an NFL Player Until I Was Fired by Two Cowards and a Bigot" Kluwe writes about the Vikings releasing him. "I honestly don't know if my activism was the reason I got fired. However, I'm pretty confident it was."
The Vikings released a statement Thursday afternoon saying in part, "The Minnesota Vikings were made aware of Chris Kluwe’s allegations for the first time today (Thursday). 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 Vikings released Kluwe in May. In the article, Kluwe claims Frazier and current general manager Rick Spielman encouraged him to tone down his rhetoric in an effort to reduce distractions to the team. He also wrote that coach Mike Priefer made several anti-gay comments in objection to Kluwe's outspoken support of a gay marriage amendment in Minnesota.
He claimed from September through November of 2012 Priefer would use homophobic language in his presence. Kluwe said he had not used the language around him in the past.
He claimed near the end of November Priefer said, "We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows." Kluwe said several Vikings players later told him what Priefer had said was "messed up."
Priefer issued a statement disputing Kluwe's portrayal of the events. In part the statement said, "I want to be clear that I do not tolerate discrimination of any type and am respectful of all individuals," Priefer said. "I personally have gay family members who I love and support just as I do any family member."
Kluwe wrote that Vikings owner Zygi Wilf supported his decision to support gay rights. He wrote that Wilf came up to him before a game in Sept. of 2012 and said, "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."
Kluwe was due to make $1.45 million, which was more than the cap-strapped Vikings wanted to spend on a punter. So they drafted Jeff Locke in the fifth round and parted ways with Kluwe, bringing to an end his colorful and outspoken stay in Minnesota.
Kluwe wrote he believes his release wasn't based on his talent, but was based on his personal viewpoints and politics. "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."
According to the Vikings statement, "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."
Kluwe said he wanted to post his article now in hopes of discouraging the Vikings, or any other team, from employing Priefer, who is widely respected at Vikings headquarters and is viewed by some as a potential head coach one day. Priefer was hired by the Vikings in 2011. He served previously as the special teams coach in Denver and Kansas City.
"If there's one thing I hope to achieve from sharing this story," Kluwe wrote, "it's to make sure that Mike Priefer never holds a coaching position again in the NFL, and ideally never coaches at any level." He wrote he also hopes, "that Leslie Frazier and Rick Spielman take a good look in the mirror and ask themselves if they are the people they truly profess themselves to be."
The Vikings did not respond directly to allegations against Priefer in their statement, but did say they "will have further comment at the appropriate time."
Kluwe averaged 44.4 yards per punt over his career in Minnesota, including a career-high 39.7 yard net average in 2012. But he ranked just 17th in the NFL in punting that season before he was cut and he lost a competition for the punting job with the Oakland Raiders in the preseason in 2013. He had several tryouts during the season, but was never signed.
Kluwe said he wanted to wait to air his grievances until after the season so as not to provide a distraction to his friends on the team during the season.
The Vikings finished this year 5-10-1 and Frazier was fired Monday.
Kluwe spoke with 1500 ESPN after his article was posted. Click here to listen to the interview.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.