Chris Kluwe calls for Priefer's firing, mulls hostile workplace claim [INTERVIEW]

Categories: Chris Kluwe
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Tony Nelson
In fall 2012, leading up to Minnesota's vote on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, I spent about a month tailing Chris Kluwe for a City Pages cover story -- the Vikings punter who became an unlikely celebrity for the Vote No campaign. Over our many interviews, Kluwe spoke in depth about how the locker room culture toward LGBT people was rapidly changing across the major league sports gamut.

But evidence to the contrary was playing out in Kluwe's own locker room, according to a column the ex-punter published on Deadspin Thursday.

In the article, provocatively titled, "I Was An NFL Player Until I Was Fired By Two Cowards and a Bigot," Kluwe says he's "pretty confident" the Vikings let him go as punishment for his off-the-field activism. Among the evidence Kluwe offers are alleged utterances from special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer (the "bigot"), who has been rumored as a potential candidate for the team's head coaching position. According to the post, Priefer regularly made homophobic comments after Kluwe came out in favor of gay marriage, saying in one meeting, "We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows."

The Internet just about blew up, as it does, and there's already a viral campaign to prevent Priefer from getting another NFL coaching gig. Priefer issued a denial, and the Vikings say they will review Kluwe's claims, noting his dismissal was "strictly based on his football performance."

We caught up with Kluwe Thursday afternoon to talk about his post, the response, and what happens next.

See also:
Chris Kluwe pries open the last closet in America: major league sports [Cover Story]

City Pages: What's the feedback been like today?

Chris Kluwe: It's been about normal for the Internet. Had people saying, "Hey thank you for speaking out, thank you for saying what you do." And then people saying, "We hope you get eaten alive by ferrets." You know, about normal.

Have you heard anything from the Vikings?

CK: Nope, but I have like 18 unanswered voicemails on my phone that I need to get through, so I'll see if there's one or two in there.

Based on your post, it sounds like the blowback from Frazier started pretty quickly [in fall 2012]. When did you start to see the writing on the wall in terms your imminent dismissal?

CK: When they drafted the punter in the fifth round. Up until that point, I thought me and T.J. Conley would be competing for the spot, which, again, like I said in the piece, I thought was a fair choice for the team to make. Because maybe I don't come back from my knee surgery properly, maybe I'm not kicking as well as I used to. But that's a choice you make as a team. But when you draft a punter in the fifth round, then that's clearly your -- that's your guy. So at that point, I was like, "OK, I need to write this stuff down because this is a story I'm going to want to tell some day."

But before that, even though Frazier was calling you into his office, you didn't think your job was in jeopardy?

CK: No. I figured it would blow over after the season was over. The [gay marriage] vote would happen one way or another, and we'd go back to playing football.

Do you think Frazier specifically took issue with what you were saying, or just the fact that you were taking a public stance on a political issue?

CK: I think in Frazier's case, it was more taking a public stance on a political issue. Every head coach in the NFL wants their team to be the one that no one talks about. So pretty much anyone who does anything is told, "Don't do that thing." And like I said in the piece, I felt that it was something that I needed to speak out about, because it was the right thing to do, and I felt like I could have an impact.

What makes you think that?

CK: Because he never made any comments to me about, you know, either homophobic or about this isn't a particular thing you should talk about. It seemed to be more of a general, "Just don't bring media attention to the team." Whereas, with coach Priefer, it was very much a, "I don't agree with you on this specific issue." And I'm not going to cast aspersions on coach Frazier's character when nothing he said makes me believe that that's what he believed.

You mention Zygi coming to your corner early on in all this. Where was he later on though when you really needed him? Did he ever come back and take your side again?

CK: This was all happening inside the locker room, and Zygi's not really in the locker room. He's very much a hands-off owner. That's how he runs his team. So it wasn't something I really felt comfortable bringing up to him. Like I said, I was hoping it would blow over at the end of the season and I could go on with my job. But as it turns out, that wasn't the case.


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