Colin Kaepernick, the Vikings and the NFL’s Political Blacklisting

The NFL continually promotes itself as a meritocracy, a place where the most meritorious players make the teams and racial, ethnicity and socioeconomic status are irrelevant. They say it’s about performance, period.

But the glaring exception to the meritocracy rule is political speech.

Exercising free speech rights does seem to keep talented players off the field.  For instance, God help you if you are a player who speaks out in defense of human rights for gay people. Just ask former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe. After he advocated for gay rights, Kluwe was harassed by his coach and ultimately his NFL career ended abruptly, despite the fact that analysts say Kluwe’s statistics were some of the best in the Vikings 56-year history.

Then there’s Colin Kaepernick, who silently protested racial inequality and police brutality by taking a knee during the national anthem.  After exercising his free speech rights, Kaepernick also couldn’t get a job, despite having a better on-field performance record than half of the backup quarterbacks on NFL rosters, according to a Washington Post review.  An excerpt from the Post’s 2016  analysis:

If you look at Total Quarterback Rating (Total QBR), Kaepernick would be an upgrade over at least half of the backups in the league today, not including rookies. That list is 18 players long and includes Landry Jones, Case Keenum, Matt Barkley, Nick Foles, Scott Tolzien, Geno Smith, Paxton Lynch, Drew Stanton, Bryce Petty, Cardale Jones, Matt Schaub, Derek Anderson, Connor Cook, Brett Hundley, Ryan Mallett, Sean Mannion and Kellen Clemens. Based on down, distance and field position, he helped the 49ers score 30 more points than expected last season through his passing prowess, per ESPN Stats and Information. His 0.09 points added per pass attempt in 2016 is greater than 15 of the backup quarterbacks available or currently on a depth chart.

Kaepernick (55.2) ranked 23rd out of 30 qualified passers in 2016 QBR, placing him ahead of starters like Ryan Tannehill, Cam Newton, Carson Wentz, Eli Manning, Blake Bortles, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Case Keenum.

No one is suggesting he should be a starter in the NFL, but the numbers clearly show he would be a smart addition as a backup quarterback.

Despite these facts, this offseason the Minnesota Vikings avoided Kaepernick like he was Spergon Wynn. The same Vikings team that ran off the politically minded Kluwe wouldn’t even consider signing the politically minded Kaepernick, despite his solid body of work on the field, and a presumably modest salary requirements.

Instead, the Vikings signed Case Keenum, who is statistically inferior to Kaepernick, and Minnesota Gopher alum Mitch Leidner, a below average college player and undrafted rookie. While the hometown boy Leidner probably won’t make the team, he was given a chance. Meanwhile, a completely untested and lackluster prospect, Taylor Heinicke, will likely be named the other backup if the Vikings keep three quarterbacks.  So, Keenum, Heinike, and Leidner over Kaepernick, and 31 other teams also took a pass.  Meritocracy my ass.

The NFL is very patriotic, so it needs to save us from the Kluwes and Kaepernicks.  By the way, some of its patriotism is a profit center.   Until recently, the Pentagon was secretly paying NFL teams as much as a million dollars per game in tax dollars to hold a moment of silence to honor veterans.  What fans assumed to be the hometown team’s heartfelt gesture was actually paid patriotism — a big buck commercial to lure local kids into the military.

There is nothing more American than exercising your free speech rights to promote equality, particularly when you know it will come at a huge financial cost.  What Kluwe and Kaepernick have been doing to improve their country is far more patriotic than the NFL’s hollow Pentagon-financed pay-for-patriotism stagecraft.

Think Marco Rubio is “Moderate?” Think Again.

The popularity of Donald Trump among Republicans poses huge long-term threats to the Republican Party. In a nation that is increasingly diverse, the nomination of Trump could further cement the party’s image as the party of bullying white bigots and misogynists. But if there is a silver lining associated with the dark Trump cloud, it is this: It sometimes creates the perception that Trump rivals like Senator Marco Rubio are “moderate” by comparison.  If Rubio gets the nomination, such a “moderate” label would serve him well.

That’s quite a gift to Senator Rubio, because he is far from a moderate. Rubio’s positions put him far, far to the right on the American political spectrum. For instance:

  • Marco_Rubio_Tea_PartyRubio ran for Senate in Florida as the candidate of the extremist Tea Party, not as the moderate alternative to the Tea Party.
  • He has a lifetime pro-choice record of 0% from NARAL Pro-choice America.
  • On safety net issues, the Alliance for Retired Americans gives him a lifetime voting record rating of just 5%.
  • On environmental issues, the League of Conservation Voters gives him a lifetime voting record score of only 9%.
  • On science issues, the Evolution Institute rates his voting record a rock bottom 0%.
  • On veterans issues, the Disabled Veterans of America gave the flag waving Rubio a 0% on its most recent rating.
  • Overall, the American Conservative Union (ACU) gives Rubio a lifetime voting record rating of 98%. In other words, Senator Rubio favored this ultra-conservative group’s positions 98% of the time. For context, conservative Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) got an 87% rating, conservative House Speaker John Boehner got an 83% rating, and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), an actual “moderate,” got a 47% ACU rating.

Admittedly, the definition of a political “moderate” is not a precise one. But I think we all can agree that the definition of “moderate” is not “one who supports conservative or liberal positions 98% of the time.”

no_moderate_Rebulicans_chartBy any reasonable measure, Senator Rubio is a far-right extremist, as is Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich (88% lifetime ACU rating), who is also sometimes inaccurately labeled a moderate by simplistic pundits.  Political scientists have documented the fact that Republican members of Congress have moved sharply to the right in recent years, and that seismic shift away from the political center is reflected in this year’s field of Republican presidential contenders.

Senator Rubio is not even a moderate in comparison to Mr. Trump. Rubio is more considerably conservative than Trump on several issues, such as affirmative action, Planned Parenthood funding, a progressive income tax, gay rights, and an assault weapon ban.

It is true that Senator Rubio’s rhetorical tone is more mild than Trump’s, and that often drives shallow pundits’ characterization of him as a “moderate.” The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart explains Rubio’s smooth style well:

Rubio has mastered the same technique Barack Obama used so effectively when he was seeking the presidency. When faced with a controversial issue, he doffs his cap to the other side, pleads for civility and respect, insists that it’s a hard call—and then comes out exactly where you’d expect him to come out. On social issues, Rubio is as predictably conservative as Obama is predictably liberal. What they share is their moderate-sounding rhetorical style.

But in the end, moderation is not a function of decibels and diplomacy. Ultimately, it is a function of positions on the issues. If moderate voters are searching for a substantive moderate in this year’s Republican presidential field, the truth is they’re not going to find one.

If Vikings Pick Punters “Strictly Based On Performance,” They Should Bring Back Kluwe

kluwe_censoredIn the wake of Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe’s advocacy of gay marriage, Vikings Special Teams Coach Mike Priefer publicly said he was tired of Kluwe-related distractions, privately told Kluwe that the gays should be rounded up and nuked, and fired Kluwe and replaced him with an untested rookie.

Despite the timing of all these events, the Vikings vehemently denied that Kluwe was fired due to his activism. The Vikings released a statement assuring Minnesotans:

“Chris was released strictly based on his football performance.”

There you have it.  Not salary. Not age (he was 31, relatively young for punters). Not activism. “Strictly based his football performance.” The Vikings assured us that they run a pure meritocracy, and Kluwe’s performance just wasn’t up to snuff.

But that was always a head-scratcher. After all, the statistics show that Kluwe was the best punter in Vikings history. For instance, Kluwe is at the top of the heap in Vikings history in career punt average, at 44.4 yards per punt. Of course, punting is also about placement, but Kluwe is also number one in Vikings history in punts placed inside the 20-yard line.

Despite Kluwe’s impressive performace-based records, Kluwe was fired and replaced by Jeff Locke, a rookie who was completely untested in the NFL. Priefer assured Vikings fans that Locke had bested Kluwe during a brief closed-door punt-off at the Vikings’ practice facility. So, while Kluwe was statistically the best punter in Vikings history, Locke was, Coach Priefer assured us, going to be even better. Kluwe wasn’t even get a chance to compete for his job at training camp.  One closed-door punt-off supervised by Priefer, and the most accomplished punter in Vikings history was shown the door.

How is that working out for Priefer and the Vikings? Kluwe’s replacement Jeff Locke was named by the wonky analysts at Pro Football Focus as the single worst punter in the NFL. Bleacher Report elaborates:

While Kluwe may have been outspoken and a hassle at times, he certainly was able to get the job done from a punting perspective, something Locke has not been able to do through nearly two seasons.

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Locke has received a combined rating of negative-20.8 since he entered the league in 2013, which is far and away the worst rating of any punter during this time fame. His negative-10.2 rating this season ranks dead last among 33 analyzed punters.

If it’s really true that Kluwe was replaced by Locke “strictly based on his football performance,” maybe Coach Priefer, or Priefer’s replacement, should be bringing back Kluwe for the 2015 season.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also published by MinnPost.

Vikings To Return To Full Strength Next Sunday With Return Of Gay Nuker and Child Abuser, Says Rackateerer

vikings_stadium_adrian_petersonNext Sunday’s game looks to be a proud moment for the storied Minnesota Vikings franchise, and, by association, all Minnesotans.

  •  Special Team’s Coach Mike Priefer, who got caught lying for months about saying that he wanted to nuke a whole class of humans because of who they love, is expected to be back after a three game suspension shortened, due to good behavior, to two games.
  • Star running back Adrian Peterson, who has admitted that he repeatedly beat a four-year child bloody with a stick, will be back from a one-game deactivation.

But don’t be concerned.  Zygi Wilf, the Vikings owner who has been found guilty of racketeering and fraud after a New Jersey judge found that “I do not believe I have seen one single (Wilf-generated) financial statement that is true and accurate,” has investigated and cleared Peterson and Priefer.

I love the Vikings, but these are just the facts.  This lifelong Vikings fan has to go take a shower now. – Loveland

What Chris Kluwe Should Be Saying

chris_kluweChris Kluwe, the former Minnesota Vikings punter who has been blowing the whistle about Vikings speical teams coach Mike Priefer’s anti-gay remarks, could use some PR help. I’m a PR guy, so I can’t help but want to put words into people’s mouths. These are the words I would advise Kluwe to speak today:

 It’s time for me to shut up. Those who know me know that’s not easy for me. But upon reflection, I’ve decided it’s time.

First, I need to do what I urged Coach Priefer to do when he did something ugly. I want to admit I was wrong and apologize.

I was a moron when I pulled an immature locker room stunt that made light of people being raped by a coach at Penn State. I wasn’t threatening an employee for speaking out about civil rights or advocating violence against a class of people, but I was very wrong in a different kind of way.   I was seeking laughs, but I was doing it at the expense of innocent victims. At the time, I thought I was joking, but it obviously looks very different through victims’ eyes, and I should have realized that. That was wrong, and I sincerely apologize.

It’s also time for me to shut up about Coach Priefer.

I achieved what I most wanted to achieve when I started speaking out against my coach’s anti-gay remarks. I got the truth out, an important piece of it anyway. I’m very proud of that, and that made this all worth the effort. After repeatedly denying it for months, Coach Priefer corroborated my story that he said gays should be rounded up and nuked.

It was gratifying to hear Coach Priefer say that I was not lying, as he had accused me of doing. It was much more gratifying to hear him say that he was wrong to say those hateful things. I sincerely hope he means it, and I hope the training he takes about gay people truly changes his heart.

There are still things I don’t understand about this whole situation. I don’t understand why the Vikings don’t release the whole truth, the full investigative report.   I will never understand that. Truth heals, and covering up the truth causes festering.

I also don’t understand why the Wilf’s sanction isn’t commensurate with the transgression — a boss using violent, hateful speech about a whole class of human beings, and threatening his employee for advocating for civil rights. If Coach Priefer had said the same things about African Americans, or other minority groups,  the punishment obviously would have been much heavier. That makes me think the Vikings don’t give gays and lesbians the same level of respect they give others. That is wrong.

Finally, I don’t understand why the Vikings would release a punter who, according to the statistics, was the best in team history. I don’t understand why they would do this at a time when I was doing everything the coach asked me to do for the sake of the team, including punting shorter and higher, which helped the coverage teams and hurt the statistics upon which I am judged.

I know that money and age are always part of player retention decisions in the NFL, but I also know that my championing of civil rights also was part of that decision.  I know this because Coach Priefer said publicly that “Those distractions are getting old for me, to be quite honest with you.”  No employee should ever be punished by an employer for  speaking out in favor of civil rights.

I knew I would never get my job back. I knew I would never get lost salary, because any money I would have won was promised to LGBT rights groups. But I was still tempted to sue, because I was worried that my employer’s firing of me for speaking out would stifle other NFL players from speaking out for what they feels is right. I still worry about that a lot.

The Vikings are dead wrong about those things. But I’ve decided not to file a lawsuit after all. I got the truth out, and that was my top priority. I hope we all learn the right lessons from this whole ugly chapter. Onward.

Mr. Kluwe is not going to convince the court that age, performance and salary weren’t also part of the Vikings’ decision to release him, so he should reclaim the one thing that is still available to him — the high road.

– Loveland

Photo credit:   Sophia Hantzes, Lavender magazine.

Would Vikings Have Doubled Down On Priefer If Accused Of Racial Slurs?

Al_Campanis_Nightline-2When Los Angles Dodgers General Manager Al Campanis said black players “may not have some of the necessities to be, let’s say, a field manager, or, perhaps, a general manager,” he was quickly fired.

When Minnesota Vikings punting coach Mike Priefer was accused of saying something much more violent and radical about gay people, the Vikings gave him a vote of confidence before the issue was properly investigated.

That’s messed up.

Imagine if a Minnesota Twins pitcher accused pitching coach Rick Anderson of saying the things Priefer is accused of saying:

“Coach Anderson would ask me if I had been defending the black people recently and denounce as disgusting the idea that a mixed race couple would kiss, and he would constantly belittle or demean any idea of acceptance or tolerance.

Another time, Coach Anderson made a joking remark about me leading the Martin Luther King Day parade. As we sat down in our chairs, Coach Anderson, in one of the meanest voices I can ever recall hearing, said: “We should round up all the black people, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.”

Would the Minnesota Twins shrug off such an accusation?  Would they announce him as their guy for next year before an investigation was completed?  Not a chance.

Watching this, you have to conclude that there is an ugly double standard at work here.  It is  much more acceptable to use gay hate speech in the professional sports world than racial hate speech.

To be clear, I’m not concluding that Coach Priefer is guilty.  The matter needs to be fairly investigated.  But giving the accused a professional vote of confidence in the midst of the investigation is a boneheaded PR move. Worse than that, it is an act of its own form of institutional bigotry.

Here is what I keep asking myself:  If Mr. Kluwe made up this story, why wouldn’t he fabricate a story where there are no witnesses and evidence involved, so he wouldn’t be forced to produce witnesses and evidence?  Because there are claims of witnesses and text messages, at this stage Kluwe’s charge can’t be prematurely dismissed as obviously groundless.

Again, there is a double standard at play here.  If Coach Priefer had allegedly castigated Kluwe for marching in a Martin Luther King parade, the Vikings would have taken this much more seriously.   If Priefer were accused of saying that  people with black skin should be murdered en masse, the Vikings would not have announced yesterday that they were doubling down on him.

There was a time when spewing racial hate speech was much more acceptable among professional sports coaches.  No more.  But with gay speech, we clearly have a ways to go.

– Loveland

Could Gay Rights Turnout Operation Sink the First Pro-Gay Marriage President in History?

In the Halloween season it’s always fun to tell far-fetched scary stories.  This one is pretty darn scary, and may not be as far-fetched as some.

What if the opponents of Minnesota’s constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage inadvertently helped unseat the first President in history to endorse gay marriage?

Here is how it could happen: Continue reading

Seriously, “Minnesotans for Marriage?” The Nazi Card?

Imagine for a moment that former Governor Jesse Ventura had compared the campaign of his 2010 U.S. gubernatorial opponent Norm Coleman to Nazi persecution.   Because Coleman is Jewish, and we all know that Jews were targeted for mass genocide by the Nazis, Ventura would have been rightfully derided by the press on the front pages, and rejected by many shocked Minnesotans.  The outrage would have been widespread, because comparing the persecuted to the persecutors is one of the most outrageous things any of us can imagine.

Well, yesterday it was reported on the Star Tribune blog that an official from the anti-freedom-to-marry group “Minnesotans for Marriage” shamefully played his own Nazi card.  Speaking to a group in Brainerd, Reverend Brad Brandon was selling the crowd on a parallel between Hitler’s suppression of religious freedom and the alleged suppression of religious freedom by supporters of the freedom to marry. Continue reading

Is Target Still Playing Kingmaker?

About 16-months ago at Minnesota-based Target Corporation’s annual meeting in Pittsburgh, an embattled Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel stressed that Target would heretofore remain neutral on the issue of gay rights, but would continue to make political donations.   A June 9, 2011 Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal headline characterized the balancing act Steinhafel was attempting:

CEO: Target will be neutral on marriage vote, will still give politically

Steinhafel’s neutrality pledge came on the heels of a customer backlash prompted by the corporation making a large political donation to anti-gay rights Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer.  Remember all the news stories, boycotts, social media rants, and flash dance protests?

At the time Steinhafel made this announcement in Pittsburgh, I wondered how Target could  possibly manage to support political candidates while keeping its neutrality pledge, since virtually all candidates take positions on gay rights issues.   After all, the world community would no longer consider Switzerland neutral if it was funding a combatant.

So, what is Target doing now?  In the 2012 election, what candidates are being funded by Target, or has Target decided to stay out of politics altogether?

My drive-by Googling can’t find the answer to this question.  After all that coverage and controversy in 2010 and 2011, could it be no business or political reporter has followed up with Target?

Hey General Mills, Make Pop Tarts, Not Politics

In this morning’s news, Best Buy and other corporations announced that they are joining a growing list of corporations pulling out of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) ).  The corporations are doing so because they were worried about their valuable brands getting muddied from fallout due to ALEC’s aggressive advocacy of “stand your ground” gun laws, such as the one at the center of the tragic Trayvon Martin murder case in Florida.

Best Buy’s decision is smart brand management.  Goodness knows, it has enough issues of its own to solve.  Best Buy doesn’t need to add to its woes by putting its  brand in the middle of the political knife fights over the most polarizing political issues of our times.

Which brings me to General Mills and its opposition to the marriage ban amendment that will be on Minnesota ballots in November. Continue reading

Will Changes Among Religious Minnesotans Make the Difference In Minnesota’s Gay Marriage Vote?

One politically interesting aspect of the marriage ban amendment on Minnesota’s ballot this November is the potential Lutheran Effect.

Even if we didn’t have Garrison Keillor to constantly remind us, it’s no secret that Minnesota has a lot of Lutherans.  Wikipedia tells me that something like a million Minnesotans are Lutheran (24% of the state), with 81% of Minnesota worshiping under the banner of the  Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), which is much more progressive than the Missouri Synod brand of Lutherans.

In fact, Minnesota has one of the highest percentages of Lutherans of any state in the nation.  The religious landscape in Minnesota is vastly different than it is in, say, North Carolina, which recently was the latest in a long line of states to pass a marriage ban amendment.    Luternans are 24% of the population in Minnesota, but just 2% in North Carolina.

All of this raises the question:  What impact will Minnesota’s Lutheran-heavy religious landscape have on the marriage ban amendment Republicans have put on Minnesota’s November ballot.

Relatively speaking, the Lutherans are progressive on the issue of gay rights.  Four synods of the local ELCA-ers recently formally opposed the Minnesota marriage ban amendment pushed by Minnesota’s social conservatives, and I don’t think the votes were close.

Lutheranophile Garrison Keillor observes:

“Lutherans…are the sort of people you could call up when you’re in deep distress. If you’re dying, they’ll comfort you. If you’re lonely, they’ll talk to you. And if you’re hungry, they’ll give you tuna salad.”

And if you’re discriminated against?

This charitable attitude looks to be even stronger among young Lutherans.  For instance, a popular song among Lutheran youth, “Party in the ELCA” (a parody of Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the USA”) has the following lyrics:

“We’re coming as we are (sinners and saints),
Doesn’t matter if you’re straight or gay.
YEAH! It’s a party in the ELCA!

“Doesn’t matter if you’re straight or gay,” indeed.  This “Party in the ELCA” is not exactly the type of religious party the Minnesota Republican Party is hoping for on Election Day 2012.

And it’s not just the Lutheran Effect.  It’s now also the Methodist Effect.  Over the weekend, the Methodists just took  basically the same position as the ELCA.  Methodists make up another 4% of Minnesotans, making them the fourth largest denomination in Minnesota, just behind the Baptists at 5%.

And what about Catholics, who are almost tied with Lutherans as the top religion in Minnesota, claiming 25% of the population?  Can we presume that Minnesota Catholics want to ban gay marriage?

Yes, but it’s not as overwhelming as some might think.  If Minnesota Catholics are anything like national Catholics, 46% of national Catholics support gay marriage, rapidly trending upwards from 40% in 2007.

Hmmm, the times are changing for Catholics too?  “Doesn’t matter if your straight or gay?  It’s a party in the Opus Dei?”

Many Minnesota social conservatives seem to make the mistake of assuming that the  marriage ban amendment debate is a strictly battle of the religious versus the irreligious, and that they will therefore easily win because the irreligious are so few (14% in Minnesota).

But increasingly, religious Minnesotans – looking to the empathetic teachings of the Golden Rule and the tolerance teachings of the Sermon on the Mount – are opposing gay bashing schemes like the proposed marriage ban amendment.

– Loveland


Note:  This post also was featured as a “best of the best” on Minnpost’s Blog Cabin feature.

Three Myths About Minnesotans and Same Sex Marriage

A recent SurveyUSA poll of Minnesotans included this question:

“President Obama says that same sex couples should be able to get married.  Do you agree with the president? Or disagree?”

The poll findings bust three popular myths about Minnesotans and same sex marriage:

Myth #1:  “Over Greater Minnesota’s Dead Body.”   The political conventional wisdom goes like this:  “The purple haired hipsters in Uptown may be for gay marriage, but traditional Main Street folks in Greater Minnesota will never stand for it.”  That conventional wisdom is wrong.  There is very little regional difference in support for gay marriage.  Support is roughly the same in the Twin Cities (53%), southern Minnesota (54%), and western Minnesota (51%).  Those three regions all fall within the 4% margin of error.  Only northeastern Minnesota (49% support) falls below the majority threshold, and is statistically different from the Twin Cities, but just barely.   Republicans need to realize that Main Street is not Narrow Street.

Myth #2:  “Only Radical Liberal Extremists Want Gay Marriage.”   This has been the conservative line for years.  But it doesn’t stand up to the data.  A pretty solid majority (55%) of self-described “moderates” and “independents” (54%) in Minnesota agree with the President on gay marriage.  If a majority of moderates support something, it can hardly be considered radical.  Support for gay marriage is now a mainstream position in Minnesota.

Myth #3:  “Marriage ban amendments pass everywhere, so it can’t be defeated in Minnesota.”  This poll found that 52% of Minnesotans support the President’s position and 42% oppose it.  There is a long way to go before the November election, but if this isn’t a dead myth, it is surely a rapidly dying one.  Literally.  The biggest source of opposition comes from people over 65 years old (only 33% support) support, and as time marches on younger generations will hold more electoral sway.  The support among Minnesota’s 18-34 year olds is running at an overwhelming 68%.

It’s very clear where this issue is headed.  In 2012, gay Minnesotans are hardly the societal aberrations they’ve been portrayed to be my whole life.  Statistically speaking, the 82% of Tea Partiers who adamantly oppose Obama on gay marriage are now the societal aberrations.