NFL’s Chris Kluwe’s LGBT Activism Irks Coach
Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe has made a name for himself as much for his willingness to take outspoken stands on issues that are important to him as he has for pinning opponents inside the 10-yard line.
He's been celebrated as a champion for gay rights, chastised for his willingness to challenge the NFL establishment and fined for altering his jersey to campaign for the Hall of Fame to enshrine its first punter.
It all appears to be wearing thin with his position coach. When asked about the $5,250 fine that Kluwe incurred for putting "Vote Ray Guy" over a patch on his jersey commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer delivered a sharp rebuke.
"I don't even want to talk about that," Priefer said Thursday. "Those distractions are getting old for me, to be quite honest with you. Do I think Ray Guy deserves to be in the Hall of Fame? Absolutely. But there's other ways of going about doing it, in my opinion."
The Vikings have generally stood behind their renaissance man, rarely getting in the way when he has tried to use his platform to raise awareness to issues away from the field. Kluwe became an important and high-profile advocate for gay marriage during the election. He's also addressed what he sees as a problem the NFL has with drunken driving in the wake of Dallas Cowboys player Jerry Brown's death and criticized voters for not putting a punter into the hall.
With the Vikings (7-6) trying to chase a playoff spot in the final three games of the season, Priefer thinks it's time for Kluwe to cool it with the activism and concentrate on his job.
"To me, it's getting old," Priefer said. "He's got to focus on punting and holding."
The timing of Priefer's comments seem a little odd, given that Kluwe is coming off a stellar performance in a victory over the Chicago Bears. Facing dangerous returner Devin Hester, he averaged 45.7 yards on seven punts and twice pinned the Bears inside the 5-yard line.
Kluwe has always taken pride in not being defined by being a football player. He plays in a band, is a voracious reader and throws himself into civil rights discussions. So it's no surprise the pointed words from his coach were met with a shrug.
"All I can do is go out and punt to the best of my ability each game, and that's how I've always approached things," Kluwe wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "If the team ever wants to replace me, they will; I'm under no delusions as to how this business operates. We all get cut eventually."
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said he has had conversations with Kluwe about buckling down as the games get more important.
"We've had some conversations, Chris and I," Frazier said. "Right now he knows the focus has to be on the St. Louis Rams. He's assured me that's where his focus is and we just have to keep moving forward."
At least one person is thankful that Kluwe has been willing to speak up.
Tracy Call, a Minneapolis advertising executive, helped recruit Kluwe into activism against a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage that Minnesota voters defeated last month. She formed a political group -- Minnesotans for Equality -- that paid to air a radio commercial where Kluwe urged defeat of the amendment.
"Chris always made it very clear there were times when we could not contact him, including Saturdays and game days," Call said. "When he was on the field, his mind was on the field. He's very focused and I think it's ridiculous to think otherwise just because he expresses opinions."
Call gave Kluwe huge credit for helping defeat the amendment.
"His message really hit home for a lot of people, a lot of people in the middle who didn't ever tune in on this issue before," Call said. "Frankly, I think we should have a parade for him."