The NFL’s Minnesota Vikings announced Friday they will investigate discrimination claims made by the team’s former punter Chris Kluwe. Two Minneapolis attorneys will independently review Kluwe’s accusation that the Vikings released him in May because of his outspoken gay rights activism. Kluwe told ESPN he would be “more than happy” to cooperate with the Vikings’ investigation.
“The thing is, I made serious statements,” Kluwe said. “If it comes down to it, I have to provide the evidence.”
Kluwe wrote an article published on Deadspin Thursday titled, “I was an NFL player until I was fired by two cowards and a bigot.” In the article, Kluwe alleged that former Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier, general manager Rick Spielman, and special teams coach Mike Priefer criticized his support of same-sex marriage. Kluwe claimed Priefer was the worst of the group, harassing and belittling his position while using anti-gay language.
The Kluwe incident is one of several in recent months in which an organization may have dismissed an individual because of his opinion on homosexual issues. In September, Fox Sports fired college football analyst Craig James because of comments he made in opposition to same-sex civil unions during his U.S. Senate campaign. Then in December, A&E briefly suspended Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson after he called homosexuality “a sin.” While Fox Sports and A&E publicly acknowledged their decision-making was based on these men’s opinions, the Vikings claim their decision was based strictly on Kluwe’s football performance.
Kluwe ranks as one of the best statistical punters in Vikings history: 623 total punts with a career average of 44.4 yards per kick. But after Kluwe’s poor performance at the end of the 2012 season—most notably in the 36-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Oct. 25, when he averaged under 38 yards a kick—the Vikings began to look elsewhere for a punter.
Minnesota selected UCLA’s Jeff Locke in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL draft, the highest drafted punter in Vikings history, and released Kluwe several months later. The Oakland Raiders signed Kluwe in May but released him before the 2013 regular season began.
Locke had a solid 2013 season for the Vikings, averaging 44.2 yards per punt. While Minnesota paid Kluwe $1.2 million in 2012, the team signed Locke for only $405,000.