Chris Kluwe, the outspoken ex-NFL punter, plans on suing his old team, the Minnesota Vikings, for discrimination
When former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe posted an explosive article on Deadspin in January, alleging that the team dumped him for being an outspoken supporter of gay marriage, he knew his career was pretty much over.
“I’m now known as the activist punter,” Kluwe tells TIME. “So when teams are choosing between a guy who has baggage and a guy who doesn’t, then it’s usually an easy choice for the team to make.”
What Kluwe didn’t expect was that the Vikings would open an independent investigation of his claims, and then, he says, keep those findings hidden.
So Kluwe announced Tuesday that he plans to file a discrimination suit against the Vikings, unless the findings of the investigation are made public. According to Kluwe’s lawyer, Clayton Halunen, over the past few months he and the Vikings have discussed terms of a possible settlement, which included the report going public, a donation of $1 million to two LGBT charities, and a public apology from special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, who allegedly said in a meeting “we should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.” (Priefer was retained as an assistant by new Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer).
Halunen said he talked to the investigators hired by the Vikings to probe the case, and they told him the report was finished and corroborated the gist of Kluwe’s allegations, including Priefer’s remark. On Monday afternoon, however, Halunen says he met with Vikings lawyers, and they told him the team wouldn’t release the report. “For six months, we were repeatedly told that the report would be made public,” says Halunen. “This news was very shocking.”
In a statement, the Vikings said, in part, that “in order to further maintain objectivity and integrity, the team engaged a nationally-prominent law firm — Littler Mendelson P.C. — to evaluate employment law matters and provide findings and recommendations to the Vikings. Those recommendations are to be provided to the team this week … the Vikings have never made or broken promises as Kluwe and his attorney Clayton Halunen have claimed … As we have consistently communicated throughout this process, the Vikings will have further comment when the investigation is entirely complete and the team has made determinations on next steps.” You can read the full statement here. The Vikings did not return a request for further comment. Halunen and the team’s lawyers are scheduled to meet on Thursday.
Why does Kluwe want the report to go public?
“For one, it corroborates my claims, obviously, or else they would have made it public by now,” says Kluwe. “And two, it shows the kind of atmosphere that could be allowed to happen if steps aren’t taken to correct that kind of culture. We want to make people aware that what they’re saying has consequences, and can be potentially hurtful to other people.” He also hopes the NFL can learn lessons. “Even though you are the NFL, you are still a business, and you are required to abide by the law,” Kluwe says. “You can’t say, just because this is football we don’t have to play by the same rules as everyone else, which I think is very important when you’re talking about a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry that frequently takes public funds to construct stadiums and host events.”
In his Deadspin piece, Kluwe wrote, “If there’s one thing I hope to achieve from sharing this story, it’s to make sure that Mike Priefer never holds a coaching position again in the NFL.” Kluwe wants that one back.
“I was being too harsh there,” Kluwe says. “What I would like to see is coach Priefer suspended for a period of time, subject to the personal conduct policy — I mean, that’s something we all have to abide by — and then to get training and work with the LGBT groups to understand why what he did was wrong. Because that way, he can serve as a positive role model to other potential coaches or managers out there who might be thinking of doing the same thing he did.
“The NFL is all about redemption stories, right?”
Lately, Kluwe spends his days as a stay-at-home-dad and science fiction novelist. He’s currently shopping a book, entitled “Genesis Prime,” which he co-wrote with friend and bandmate Andy Reiner (Kluwe plays bass for Tripping Icarus, a Minneapolis-based group).
“It’s essentially a very human story about what happens with those in power, as power always corrupts,” Kluwe says. “You can start out with the noblest of intentions, but then along the way you get to a point where you might think you’re doing things for the right reasons, but you’re not.” Hmmm. NFL metaphor, anyone? “No so much the NFL, just large structures in general,” Kluwe says. “You can look at what’s happening with the NSA, you can look at what’s happening with our drone program, even what’s happening with the Catholic Church.”
While Kluwe is comfortable pursuing a writing career and looking after his two young daughters in their Huntington Beach, Calif. home, he still wants an NFL job. He has eight years of punting experience, and was in the top-10 in yards-per-punt during three different seasons. Kluwe says he’s been kicking balls, and is in game shape. Still, since the Deadspin story posted, no NFL team has called. He doesn’t regret writing the piece, but is still disappointed.
“In the NFL, it’s okay to commit crimes or beat your wife or get caught drunk driving, but when you speak out for something, that’s the line you can’t cross.
“Apparently, I can’t be redeemed.”