Last week, Deadspin published an article by former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe titled “I used to be an NFL player until I was fired by two cowards and a bigot.” In it, Kluwe claims he was released from the team in the spring of 2013 because of his outspoken support of same-sex marriage. He details the verbal abuse Mike Priefer, his position coach (the “bigot”), spewed toward homosexuals and how head coach Leslie Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman (the two “cowards”) made the decision to cut him despite ongoing solid performance on the field. Both sides have now retained legal counsel to examine the dispute and determine fault.
It is natural to take sides and jump to conclusions in such a dispute. We hear one side of the story and jump to the defense of the little man facing down the evil institution. Or maybe you think Kluwe got what was coming to him for being a big mouth or because you’re opposed to his stance on gay marriage. Regardless of our gut reactions, it is wise to respond with care and deliberation and consider several points in this particular case.
Innocent until proven guilty is a good principle for more than just a court of law. It should function as a principle of fairness. It is yet unclear where the wrongdoing really lies in this case. Withhold judgment until it’s clear.
Human memory is notoriously unreliable. Kluwe is writing a detailed account with quotes, dates, and more from his own memory. There is more than a little chance his recollections are imperfect.
It is entirely possible Kluwe is telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. His claims are strong but entirely feasible. We should listen and give him the chance to prove his case.
It is equally as likely Kluwe has an agenda against the team officials who released him and is smearing them in the press. He has yet to land another job in the NFL and blames the Vikings. If you read the letter he wrote (warning: the letter contains profanity) to a Maryland politician defending another NFL player’s stance on gay marriage, you get the sense that Kluwe can be both vindictive and cross the lines of decency. Is it proof of anything? No. But it opens that door a bit.
The NFL is a culture that keeps its doors closed and solves its problems in-house. It removes those who make themselves larger than a team or the league. This very well might be an instance of bigotry (the NFL isn’t known for its open-mindedness), but it might also be an instance of a rigid culture protecting itself.
As we consider the varying possibilities, seek to be discerning. Form judgments, but hold them loosely and speak them softly. Justice must be just whether we like and agree with someone or not.