EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Chris Kluwe made his bold declaration. The Minnesota Vikings are now having their say against their former punter.
Kluwe, who was out of the NFL this season after being released by Minnesota in May and the Raiders before the season started, blasted Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, coach Leslie Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman in a scathing article posted on Deadspin Thursday morning.
Kluwe asserted that his release in part was due to his outspoken nature, particularly in support of gay rights.
In the Deadspin article, Kluwe wrote: "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."
Kluwe, one of the best statistical punters in Vikings history in his eight seasons with the team, had become well-known for his public stances on same-sex marriage rights, speaking out often in support of equal rights both locally and nationally. But after a season in which he was constantly in the news, Kluwe was released in the offseason.
He signed with the Oakland Raiders, but lost a training camp battle with Marquette King. Kluwe had several tryouts during the season, but was never signed. He acknowledged at the end of his Deadspin story that he’s unlikely to get another job in the NFL after writing his account of issues in Minnesota.
Among the assertions Kluwe claimed in the story, he wrote that Priefer said, "We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows" while in a special teams meeting with Kluwe and other players present.
Kluwe said he came forward now because the team’s season is over and wouldn’t cause a distraction for the current players on the team, and also because Priefer’s job status is uncertain with the Vikings firing Frazier on Monday.
"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, and ideally never coaches at any level," Kluwe wrote.
Priefer responded later in a statement released to beat reporters.
"I vehemently deny today’s allegations made by Chris Kluwe," Priefer responded. "I want to be clear that I do not tolerate discrimination of any type and am respectful of all individuals. I personally have gay family members who I love and support just as I do any family member.
"The primary reason I entered coaching was to affect people in a positive way. As a coach, I have always created an accepting environment for my players, including Chris, and have looked to support them both on and off the field.
"The comments today have not only attacked my character and insulted my professionalism, but they have also impacted my family. While my career focus is to be a great professional football coach, my number one priority has always been to be a protective husband and father to my wife and children.
"I will continue to work hard for the Minnesota Vikings, the Wilf family and all of our loyal fans."
Shortly after Priefer came forward, several players posted on Twitter in support of Priefer, including punter Jeff Locke, who was drafted to replace Kluwe last April.
"In my short time with the Vikings, Coach Priefer has treated me with respect and has helped me develop as a player and person," Locke wrote on his Twitter page. "I have never witnessed any actions or statements by Coach Priefer similar to those described in the recent Deadspin article."
Kicker Blair Walsh, who worked with Kluwe during the season in question, supported the coaches with a strongly worded statement.
"I have been a member of the Minnesota Vikings for 2 years," Walsh wrote in a letter sent to reporters. "I want to start off by saying I have the utmost respect for Rick Spielman, Leslie Frazier and Mike Priefer. All three, are good men.
"I have had countless conversations and interactions with Coach Priefer, and I personally can attest to his integrity and character. His professionalism in the workplace is exemplary, and I firmly believe that my teammates would whole-heartedly agree. The allegations made today are reprehensible and totally not compatible with what Mike Priefer stands for.
"As we all know, in the NFL you must perform at the highest level and meet the performance expectations of your coaches, management, and ownership. If these expectations, based upon past performance AND future potential for excellence, are not met, your NFL career with that team, is over. I believe this was the case with Chris, and it is unfair to think that his release was anything other than football related.
"In my time here at Minnesota, Rick Spielman and Leslie Frazier have exemplified true leadership. Contrary to Chris’ statements, they have promoted a workplace environment that was conducive for success. At no time did I ever feel suppressed or that I could not be myself.
"I firmly stand behind Rick Spielman, Leslie Frazier, and Mike Priefer."
Other players who supported Priefer on Twitter were fullback Jerome Felton and safety Harrison Smith.
The Vikings also sent out a statement Thursday and said they play to investigate the matter.
"The Minnesota Vikings were made aware of Chris Kluwe’s allegations for the first time today. 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 team has long respected our players’ and associates’ individual rights, and, as Chris specifically stated, Vikings ownership supports and promotes tolerance, including on the subject of marriage equality. Because he was identified with the Vikings, Chris was asked to be respectful while expressing his opinions. Team ownership and management also repeatedly emphasized to Chris that the Vikings would not impinge on his right to express his views.
"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.
"We will have further comment at the appropriate time."