Why Chris Kluwe's Deadspin Article Should Be Viewed With Caution
On Thursday, former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe wrote he believes he was fired because of his same-sex marriage activism in an extended article for Deadspin. Well, as Kluwe himself clarifies, probably. Following the publication of Kluwe's article, the Vikings released a terse statement claiming that Kluwe's poor football performance was the sole reason he was booted from the team after eight years, and Kluwe himself prefaced the allegations with "I honestly don't know," admitting that he can't be certain that his activism was what got him fired.
"This is a true answer. I honestly don't know if my activism was the reason I got fired," he writes. "However, I'm pretty confident it was."
Unfortunately, the ensuing media reports, like this one from Yahoo! Sports, paid no heed whatsoever to Kluwe's own expressed hesitancies. And the article's splashy, front-page headline, "I was an NFL player until I was fired by two cowards and a bigot" — which, to be fair, probably wasn't decided upon by Kluwe — doesn't help.
Therein lies a clue to the major problem with the reporting on this story; the story isn't "Kluwe was fired for advocating gay rights," as the headline and follow-up media reports state, but is "Kluwe thinks he might have been fired for advocating gay rights." And the latter isn't quite so splashy.
Kluwe's allegations, if true, are very serious. Alongside the suggestion he was fired for his gay-rights advocacy, Kluwe also claims that he was told by Vikings special team co-ordinator Mike Priefer, "We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows."
Of course, anti-gay sentiment in the NFL is unfortunately nothing new. It's the only North American sports league that hasn't ever suspended a player for using a homophobic slur, there's never been a single openly gay player in the 2,000-person league, and NFL scouts have been accused of grilling potential players about their sexual orientation before signing them.
Kluwe has long been one of the only gay-rights activists in the NFL: "We’re the only ones who are going to look out for each other, so we have to look out for each other," Kluwe said of himself and fellow NFL star Brendon Ayanbadejo, who petitioned the Supreme Court to strike down California's Prop 8. "It’s just an NFL thing.”
But last summer, the coming out of one of the NFL's former stars, Wade Davis, seemed to herald a watershed moment. Davis spoke candidly about the years he spent hiding his sexuality: "You just want to be one of the guys, and you don't want to lose that sense of family," he told Outsports.com. "Your biggest fear is that you'll lose that camaraderie and family."
Yet this reaction to Kluwe's piece indicates that we're still too quick to judge when reading about the sport industry's relationship with sexuality — even where we don't have the full facts. Think back to diver Tom Daley's announcement that he was dating a man at the beginning of December last year. Daley never once said he was gay, nor that he was in a gay relationship, but within a matter of hours of him uploading a confessional video to YouTube, Twitter and the international press were agog with "Daley comes out as gay!!!"—acclamations.
Similarly, when it comes to Kluwe, the details of this particular case have been ignored for a catchy, gay-related headline. 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. (Or, as the Vikings put it, "Chris was released strictly based on his football performance.") As an ESPN blog by Kevin Seifert explains:
A more objective explanation, as we discussed at the time, would note that he was a 31-year-old veteran who had produced a below-average performance in 2012 based on the criteria the Vikings most valued. He was entering the final year of his contract, one that carried no salary cap hit if he were released, and was playing for a team that had been systematically replacing older players with younger ones.
That's not to say Kluwe is necessary wrong about the reason he was sacked. After all, Kluwe has been one of the most outspoken, if not the most outspoken, activist for gay rights the NFL has ever seen: Last September, he wrote an open letter, again via Deadspin, condemning Maryland's state assembly delegate for allegedly stifling his teammate's support for gay rights. In October, he wrote another letter in furious response to a video statement from a teammate supporting a ban on gay marriage.
But there is another problem. The "two cowards and a bigot" that Kluwe refers to are named and shamed, but they aren't given any chance to tell their side of the story. If true, Kluwe's claims are both important and disturbing, but until we have more proof than a first-person narrative from a guy who's just been fired from his chosen career, we need to remember they're just that: claims.
If Kluwe can provide evidence to support his allegations, or if his Deadspin piece is enough to require the NFL to investigate the issue and find his allegations valid, then this could be a landmark moment for the omnipresent issue of homophobia within the NFL. Though ex-general managers estimate that there are scores of gay players in the NFL, not one active gay player has felt they can come out publicly — and if the NFL is forced to come to terms with the gross inequality of this, that culture could begin to change.
If Kluwe was sacked for advocating equality, then shame on the NFL, and may the media (and everybody else) take Big Football to task accordingly. But until it's proven one way or another way, let's hold the front page on this latest sport-and-sexuality scandal.