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Saturday, January 4, 2014 - 12:15am
(CNN) -- Former punter and outspoken LGBT advocate Chris Kluwe was let go from the Minnesota Vikings in May, but he isn't going away quietly.
Over the past couple of years, Kluwe has become well known for his gay rights activism, and in an article published Thursday on the website Deadspin, he claims he has reason to believe his activism played a role in his firing.
The article is written by Kluwe, and it's titled "I was an NFL Player Until I Was Fired By Two Cowards And a Bigot." In it, Kluwe recounts several incidents during the 2012 season and comes to this conclusion:
"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...who lacked the fortitude to disagree with Mike Priefer on a touchy subject matter."
The claims are serious -- serious enough to merit an investigation and set the Internet afire with debate. But sparking conversation is something Kluwe has done before.
Trouble in the ranks?
Mike Priefer is the Vikings special-teams coordinator, a position that obviously has him working closely with punters such as Kluwe. In Thursday's article, Kluwe claims that after he started attending speaking engagements and events supporting gay rights, Priefer began using bigoted language in team meetings or in the company of teammates.
"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. He also claims Priefer made an offensive comment suggesting that homosexuals be rounded up on an island and eliminated -- a comment Kluwe said stunned his teammates to silence.
Kluwe also claimed that Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier (who was fired Monday) and Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman were at least partially aware of the tense relationship between Kluwe and Priefer, that Frazier urged Kluwe to "be quiet" regarding his affiliation with gay rights groups, and that Spielman texted Kluwe, requesting him to "fly under the radar."
Of one conversation, Kluwe said, "[Frazier] reiterated his fervent desire for me to cease speaking on the subject, stating that 'a wise coach once told me there are two things you don't talk about in the NFL, politics and religion.'"
Frazier and Spielman are the two men labeled "cowards" in the article's title.
Vikings, staff speak out
Kluwe is no stranger to courting controversy, but the claims in his latest article were swiftly addressed by the team and the accused.
The Vikings franchise released a statement Thursday, saying they take Kluwe's claims "very seriously, and will thoroughly review this matter."
"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," it read.
Priefer, the man Kluwe labeled a "bigot," had his own piece to say.
"I vehemently deny today's allegations made by Chris Kluwe," Priefer said in a statement to the Minnesota Star-Tribune. "I want to be clear that I do not tolerate discrimination of any type and am respectful of all individuals ... The comments today have not only attacked my character and insulted my professionalism, but they have also impacted my family."
A history of controversy, activism
Kluwe's candid road to high-profile activism began in September of 2012, when he penned a (NSFW) open letter on Deadspin defending fellow NFL player Brendon Ayanbadejo against a Maryland state delegate. The Baltimore Raven had publicly expressed his support for same-sex marriage; in response, the delegate had asked the team's owner to "inhibit such expressions."
The letter, strewn with creative profanities, made a searing impression on the Internet. Over the next few months, the already-vocal Kluwe made many appearances at LGBT events. In 2013, he appeared on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," attended the Twin Cities Pride Festival in Minneapolis and posed for the cover of Out magazine, a gay lifestyle publication.
Kluwe writes extensively and has published several articles on the Deadspin platform, addressing not only gay rights issues, but general sports issues as well. He also blogged for the website of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press until he severed his relationship with the newspaper in 2012 after it published an editorial that effectively opposed gay marriage.
In the summer of 2013, Minnesota legalized gay marriage, a milestone that Kluwe had worked to support.
When his latest article was published, Kluwe seemed to know it was going to attract a lot of attention. He tweeted a link to the piece, saying, "Welp, crossed the Rubicon today. Sometimes life ain't pretty, folks. So it goes."
What to make of it?
Bleacher Report called Kluwe's revelations "eye-opening, admirable and puzzling," which seems to accurately describe the range of reactions to the piece: surprise, admiration, but a bit of confusion as well.
Kluwe's creative, edgy writing style and rise in pop culture politics has made him something of a folk hero to those who support his causes, so his claims have been accepted at face value by many outlets.
"The NFL doesn't always respect reliable players who are role models off the field. Not when those players are smart and have opinions and dare to speak those opinions on places like the Internet," wrote Les Carpenter at Yahoo Sports.
The Minneapolis City Pages' LGBT section called Priefer "homophobic" in a headline, and claimed that Priefer's son, Michael Priefer Jr., operates a Twitter account laden with bigoted and aggressive language (the account is private, meaning only those who follow him can see his tweets). CNN cannot independently verify that the account belongs to Priefer Jr.
Other voices called into question the timing of the allegations. In Thursday's Deadspin piece, Kluwe admits that he doesn't know if it was his views that got him fired, and that there were other, football-related reasons at play as well.
Kluwe, for example, admitted in the article that he had some rocky games in the 2012 season, but his net averages remained high, and he was still recognized as one of the best punters in Vikings history. Kluwe also suffered from a torn meniscus in his left knee that required surgery in early 2013, but he recovered in time to practice for the upcoming season.
"When it comes to Kluwe, the details of this particular case have been ignored for a catchy, gay-related headline," writes Nichi Hodgson of the website Bustle. "It seems there could have been any number of reasons to fire him; reasons that intersected to make him, on the whole, a player the Vikings felt they could do without."
Tom Powers, a sports journalist for the Pioneer-Press, says Kluwe's actions are warranted if Priefer and the others are indeed the types of people Kluwe alleges them to be. However, if that were true, why did it take so long to expose them?
"If Kluwe really had wanted to make an impact, he could have exposed the situation while he was still a Viking," he writes. "That would have been courageous and honorable. Now it smacks of revenge and maybe a legal settlement."
Kluwe is highly active in online communities, and has not backed down from controversy in the past. Whatever the outcome of this storm, it's safe to say the Internet hasn't heard the last from him, on this subject or any other.