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.

Where the Commissioner Meets the Archbishop

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterJust as every crisis presents opportunities for change, every scandal is a moment ripe for reconsidering conventional wisdom.

The NFL’s off-field domestic violence mess has inspired quite a lot of fascinating, long-overdue reflection on the role of a shrewdly marketed business enterprise that has truly made itself a major pillar of our culture, a bona fide secular religion as faith-based in its own way as any church.

Watching the Ray Rice-to-Adrian Peterson et al debacle unfold, with all the pathetic prevaricating of Commissioner Roger Goodell and the league’s sycophantic apologists has reminded me over and over again of the sex-abuse ridden Catholic Church, particularly here in Minnesota, as it is led by another wholly disreputable, discredited leader, Archbishop John Nienstedt. Both entities have wrapped themselves in vestments of impregnable propriety. Both have enabled abuse and both are now conducting “sham investigations”. Here’s Madeleine Baran at MPR on the Archdiocese, and our old friend Keith Olbermann at ESPN.

Likewise, the appalling behavior(s) of their respective employees followed by arrogant, tone-deaf official response now has both institutions in a similar situation, where the faithful — not all, but an influential minority capable of critical thought — are actively reexamining the faith and money they’ve invested in each. A reassessment long, long overdue IMHO.

A couple weeks back I read a terrific piece on the psychological appeal of the NFL for American men. I thought it was posted at Grantland, but damned if I can find it there any now. So, my apologies to the author, who took the power and profanity of the NFL to a higher, significantly more illusion-rattling level, by exploring just what exactly the league is selling.

The bottom-line of a very thoughtful piece is that the NFL, and really football everywhere in modern America, is one of the final, protected realms of unfettered masculinity, where men (and boys aspiring to be “men”) are encouraged and rewarded for performing as men “must” and “should” to achieve success. Obviously, since football is an entertainment this heretofore manly safe room is passed on/marketed as a fantasy for those who can’t play, but embrace it vicariously, feeling and asserting male privilege by adjacency.

Clearly, this line of thinking is way too touchy-feely and psycho-babbly for mass consumption. But the writer continued on to the make the salient point that the contact high men get off football, the wildly successful NFL in particular, isn’t just confined the sad yobs in their Vikings jerseys scraping and bowing to a beaming Zygi Wilf as he leaves the Capitol with a sweetheart deal that stick the rubes with over $800 million in debt by the time the next stadium is paid off.

No. The psychological power of the league’s message also resonates deeply with the smart guys, the suits and politicians who crave the glow of power and success emitted by the league. Recall again local legislators cramming to get in the photo op with Commissioner Roger Goodell when he came to town to deliver his ultimatum to pick up the tab for the Vikings/NFL … or else.

The (very) monied class is no more immune to the adjacency-buzz given off by the NFL than blue collar couch potatoes. The only difference is that the wealthy experience a special tumescence and dampness over the NFL’s vise grip command of its message, market and balance sheet. Association with the NFL, via corporate suites and/or ludicrously over-priced ticket prices and personal seat licenses being a display of status so vital as to be irresistible to any “player” in the game of commerce.

As a matter of status and survival human nature is all about keeping score, and the NFL, until now at least, has asserted and sold unapologetic dominance like very few other cultural institutions … other than organized religions.

The third leg of the league’s marketing magic is of course the sports media, who daily, hourly, minute-by-get-a-life-minute provide free marketing lift for 32 of the wealthiest men in America. The completely routine whoring of some of the most “credible” names in the country and local communities is taking a corrosive beating.

Here’s Stefan Fatsis on the worst offenders. Here’s another, from Dave Edwards at Deadspin. Fatsis makes the always pertinent appointment about the difference between “access reporting”, where one never pisses off the subject at hand and “accountability reporting” which, well, which is something other than PR work. Day-to-day business reporting could do well with a heavy injection of the latter.

As with the Catholic church (and several other ossified religious organizations) this kind of truth-telling and public-shaming is both long overdue and healthy. For cultures to evolve, no institution should be allowed immunity from accountability.

And I say this as a fan of football, pro football in particular. Before the domestic abuse mess I was telling my cousin, a 20-year college football coach, that I was ashamed of how much pro football I watched last season. Not because I felt guilty about getting whipped up over a bunch of steroidal wife beaters and child abusers, but because the game is so entertaining to watch I wasted way too much time watching instead of tending to the weekend honey-do list.

As a television entertainment pro football has pro soccer beat ten ways to one, even with the NFL’s ridiculous glut of commercials. (Soccer will never cut it in the US if a championship game amounts to 90 minutes of tapping the ball back and forth at midfield, “strategizing” for essentially a home-run hitting contest in a vaguely comprehended overtime.)

The primary appeal being the precision and balletic beauty of the passing game, not the “bone crushing” attempted decapitation of receivers stupid enough to run a crossing pattern.

The credulous faithful of both organized religion and pro football may be having a tough time accepting the criminality and gross arrogance of institutions so vital to their sense of personal value, but as the NFL tells a player reeling from yet another concussion, “You’re going to have man up, pal.”

 

Why Doesn’t Chris Kluwe Just Shut Up?

Kluwe allegations?  Meh.  Why doesn’t former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe just quit all of his blathering about Special Teams Coach Mike Priefer and the gays? Kluwe had his time in the limielight, and it’s time for him to let it go already.  With training camp just around the corner, it’s time to let the home team have a fresh start. The last thing the world needs is another lawsuit.

If you listen to sports talk radio, that’s the dominant vibe from  diehard Vikings fans. Kluwe’s allegations are just a tiresome buzz-kill for them. They’re indifferent about the issue.  For them, it’s all about “let’s play!”

If Kluwe is lying about Priefer, then the fans are right. Kluwe not only should shut up, he probably should get the Jesse Ventura treatment from Priefer.

Truth_to_PowerBut if Kluwe’s boss did ridicule and threaten Kluwe for championing civil rights, and wish genocide on a whole category of human beings, then Kluwe has a moral obligation to sue the Vikings to get the truth out.

At first blush, a Kluwe lawsuit may seem like a money grab.  But Kluwe has said he will donate any lawsuit proceeds to LGBT rights groups.

At second blush, a lawsuit may seem punitive and petulant. But at this point, a lawsuit is really the only way the truth can be revealed. A lawsuit is the only way Kluwe can put former teammates under oath.  It’s the only way he can compel them to tell “nothing but the truth” about what they heard Priefer say. That looks to be necessary, because these are people who would surely be scared to speak out about their current boss.  After all, Priefer could release those players Kluwe-style, costing them millions of dollars. Talk about your inconvenient truths.

What’s the Big Deal?

So before an indifferent Vikings Nation rushes to cry “shut up and let’s play,” let’s step back and reflect for a moment. Here is what Kluwe alleges Priefer said:

Coach Frazier immediately told me that I “needed to be quiet, and stop speaking out on this stuff” (referring to my support for same-sex marriage rights). I told Coach Frazier that I felt it was the right thing to do (what with supporting equality and all), and I also told him that one of his main coaching points to us was to be “good men” and to “do the right thing.” He reiterated his fervent desire for me to cease speaking on the subject, stating that “a wise coach once told me there are two things you don’t talk about in the NFL, politics and religion.” I repeated my stance that this was the right thing to do, that equality is not something to be denied anyone, and that I would not promise to cease speaking out. At that point, Coach Frazier told me in a flat voice, “If that’s what you feel you have to do,” and the meeting ended. The atmosphere was tense as I left the room.

Throughout the months of September, October, and November, Minnesota Vikings special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer would use homophobic language in my presence. He would ask me if I had written any letters defending “the gays” recently and denounce as disgusting the idea that two men would kiss, and he would constantly belittle or demean any idea of acceptance or tolerance.

Mike Priefer also said on multiple occasions that I would wind up burning in hell with the gays, and that the only truth was Jesus Christ and the Bible. He said all this in a semi-joking tone, and I responded in kind, as I felt a yelling match with my coach over human rights would greatly diminish my chances of remaining employed. I felt uncomfortable each time Mike Priefer said these things. After all, he was directly responsible for reviewing my job performance, but I hoped that after the vote concluded in Minnesota his behavior would taper off and eventually stop.

Near the end of November, several teammates and I were walking into a specialist meeting with Coach Priefer. We were laughing over one of the recent articles I had written supporting same-sex marriage rights, and one of my teammates made a joking remark about me leading the Pride parade. As we sat down in our chairs, Mike Priefer, in one of the meanest voices I can ever recall hearing, said: “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.” The room grew intensely quiet, and none of the players said a word for the rest of the meeting. The atmosphere was decidedly tense. I had never had an interaction that hostile with any of my teammates on this issue—some didn’t agree with me, but our conversations were always civil and respectful. Afterward, several told me that what Mike Priefer had said was “messed up.”

After this point, Mike Priefer began saying less and less to me, and our interactions were stilted. I grew increasingly concerned that my job would be in jeopardy.

If that’s true, that’s not just rude or insensitive. It’s dehumanizing, abusive and bigoted.  It’s unbecoming of a team representing Minnesota. More importantly, it’s the kind of verbal violence that, intended or not, feeds and rationalizes actual violence against gays and lesbians.

Double Standard

What if Priefer had ridiculed and threatened an employee who marched to champion equal rights for African Americans, women or Jews?  Society wouldn’t tolerate that.

Imagine Priefer had said we should round up all the African Americans, women or Jews to be nuked.  Again, that would not be met by shrugs from an indifferent news media, NFL and  Vikings organization.

So why are so many seemingly indifferent about these allegations?  We should be standing up against this bigotry, just as most of us would if African Americans, women or Jews were the target.  As Hitler death camp survivor Elie Wiesel observed: “The opposite of hate is not love.  It’s indifference.”

I’m not blind to the possibility that Kluwe could be lying. But if he is lying, I can’t believe he would sue, as he has promised he will do if the Vikings don’t release their internal investigation report.   If Kluwe is lying, I would think he would quietly slink away.   If Kluwe moves forward with a lawsuit, I’m much more inclined to believe he is probably telling the truth about Priefer’s outrageous behavior.  After all, why would he put his former teammates on the stand if he knew the truth they would be compelled to tell — under threat of perjury charges — would show Kluwe to be a liar?

Viking Nation, I want to move on to football too.  I want to see if Teddy can throw, Captain can cover the slot and Mike and Norv can coach.  But as difficult as it may be for the face-painting crowd to grasp, some things are bigger than the game. Getting closure on these extremely ugly allegations is bigger than the game.

– Loveland

For the Moment, Aereo Will Not Loosen TV’s “Sports Tax”

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterI’m of the belief that far fewer people understood the implications of Aereo, the tech company smacked down by the Supreme Court yesterday, than understand their own health insurance. In others, almost no one is conversant in what Aereo, with its tiny little antennas, might have done to the way you and I consume, and more importantly, pay for television entertainment.

Most of the large, national papers, (and here), break down the legal arguments in the case, decided by a 6-3 vote with the Court’s resident trolls — Scalia, Thomas and Alito — actually dissenting in favor of Aereo’s “disruptive” technology. (So yes, let the record show I’m actually aligned with those three … on this one.)

Aereo’s case was always a hard sell. It smells pretty densely of someone making a buck off someone’s else’s investment, and god knows we can’t allow that kind of thing to happen here in the US of A. But the concept of paying one company maybe $80 a year to deliver network programming … instead of handing $50-$120/month to some cable or satellite giant like Comcast or DirecTV … has a lot of appeal, and, more to the larger point, seems an utter inevitability in the age of streaming media … (which I think is going to last a while.)

The Court was careful to assert that it wasn’t going all Luddite with this case. It says it has no quarrel with new technologies, just that this one was pretending to be an antenna company when in fact it was a “retransmitter” like Comcast and the satellites, and therefore should pay ABC, NBC, PBS etc. … like cable and satellites do.

But with Aereo’s defeat goes another opportunity to loosen the grip professional sports has on our wallets. Had Aereo won, the betting was that millions of people would have begun dumping Comcast, et al, since viewers wouldn’t have needed them to get “Two Broke Girls” and “America’s Got Talent” and all the other high-quality, advertising-glutted programming the networks are “providing” for their viewers.

Moreover it would have been, some argued persuasively, an evolutionary moment in the war-on-bundling, the preposterous practice whereby Grandma Millie pays $100 a month for 300 channels of cable/satellite service even though she only watches six shows, none of which are the NFL or local pro sports teams like the Twins and Timberwolves. (I find it odd that our legions of raging, anti-tax zealots never complain too loudly about this kind of flagrant, no-freedom-of-choice scam.)

Pro sports have had a fine, long run at the trough of bundling, via the way cable and satellite operators cover the fantastically large costs of paying the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL for game rights by requiring sports fans to buy packages of 40 other channels to watch them, or in sweet Grandma Millie’s case, in order for her to watch HGTV and the Food Channel.

The bet is that very soon someone will invent a way to grab live streaming of sports broadcasts via the internet and stick a dagger in the heart of the cable/satellite business plan. It may not be free, but it’ll be tough to duplicate the $50-$75 a month bundling up-charge most of us pay to have “free access” to any Twins game when we want it.

Beyond all that though is the threat to the standard, laughably ossified TV advertising model. Even as a geezer, the appeal of the DVR/Apple TV/”cloud” experience is simple: Better picture, no commercials. Watching hackneyed pitches for pickups, beer and Cialis is not a quality use of my time, and who in their right mind, especially younger consumers, will ever accept it any other way? I, for example, had no problem paying $2.99 an episode for “Fargo” sans the interminable three and four minute commercial blocks. (Also, as I say, the streaming picture is far superior to the compressed signal coming in via Dish satellite. The picture quality difference was particularly noticeable with “Breaking Bad’, a virtuoso moment in small screen cinematography.)

So let’s get real. Pay-per-view is the natural future for everything. It’s what we do with everything else. Buy only what you really want. Especially when post-bundle, you’ll find you have plenty of jing leftover at the end of the month for programming that you actually watch. Someone, maybe even a re-considered Aereo, will eventually construct a business model that provides exactly that service to every corner, holler and mountain top of the country.

But it won’t be happening right now.

– Brian Lambert

From Redskins to Warriors?

The professional football team in Washington, D.C. has an offensive mascot, the Redskins. There have been endless debates about the historic use of the name.  Some argue the name “redskins” was used as a slur and to refer to bounties on Native American scalps, while others say the usage has been more benign.  But historic usage aside, if the name is offensive to the Americans it depicts, it is offensive to keep using it.

Because of a recent court ruling removing trademark protection for “redskins,” the name may finally change in the fairly near future. That’s a good thing.  But according to a survey by the Huffington Post, the favorite to replace Washington Redskins is Washington Warriors (57% support).  That’s a bad thing.

Washington_Warriors_logos“Warriors” has long been pushed heavily in social media.  The suggestion is often accompanied by a logo depicting the Pentagon, the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense. Other options show  soldiers in video game style art.

We’re all eager for this debate to be over, but I have to say I hate this idea.

If the U.S. only entered necessary wars, such as World War II, I would be slightly more comfortable with this. But the fact is, over the last half century, the military industrial complex that Republican President Dwight Eisenhower warned us about, has made a habit of regularly leading us into a series of  unnecessary wars that have had tragic consequences for brave American soldiers and the entire nation.

Part of the way the neoconservatives and defense contractors promote profit-generating military interventions is to glorify wars and warriors with cartoonish depictions like those used in the Washington Warriors logos.   Haliburton’s version of “support our troops” is to send young kids to unnecessary wars, and then salute them at sporting events. My version of “support our troops” is to keep our troops the hell out of unnecessary wars. Haliburton’s version is carrying the day, and that needs to stop.

There are 15 cabinet level departments in the federal government. Others promote learning, economic security, scientific discovery,  natural resource management,  environmental protection, justice, law enforcement, and health improvement. Those are heroic pursuits in their own right, so why does the department responsible for getting us mired in Vietnam and Iraq get singled out for glorification?  Of all the things we want our nation’s capitol to be known for, we choose it’s checkered record of war-making?

Relax, I wouldn’t advocate naming the football team after any of those departments or their work. There are hundreds of possibilities, so digging into the bureaucracy for the name isn’t necessary.

But the last thing America needs is more glorification of the military industrial complex’s war-making machine.   We have had enough of making bloody wars look like a cartoon video game back home.  We have had enough of wars that are rarely fought by the sons and daughters of those getting us into the wars.  We have enough American men and women unnecessarily maimed and killed. We’ve had enough of federal debt driven by trillions of dollars in unnecessary wars.

Starting with the name of Washington’s football team, let’s stop glorifying all of that. Just stop.

– Loveland

The Strib boldly goes … .

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterTo give credit where credit is rarely due, I must say I read Mike Kaszuba and Rochelle Olson’s Sunday piece on the beyond-parody list of freebies and concierge services the NFL demands of its Super Bowl host cities and had a hard time stifling my amazement. Not that the NFL demands/”requests” for stuff like police escorts for team owners who have already had special clearance to land their private jets at local airports … I fully assumed that … the surprise was that the Star Tribune ran the story on 1A.

While the scoop of a reporter actually getting his/her paws on the … 153-page … document wherein one of the most lucrative commercial enterprises in America sets down in writing exactly how it expects to be treated like a preening Kardashian was far to juicy to ignore, I will argue that a year ago, the Strib would have conceived a rationale for tucking it away from the heavy traffic. The paper, certainly its opinion page, really has been that obvious a shill for the NFL for that long.

There’s a very revealing, amusing tell-all e-book in some Strib insider’s account of the myriad ways the paper failed the basic rules of journalistic skepticism in its sustained campaign for the lop-sided stadium contract with which taxpayers are now ladened. This would include, for example, why the sharpest criticism of the deal voiced by veteran sports writer Pat Reusse — a bona fide opinion leader for the sad rubes bowing in front of Zygi Wilf — appeared not in the Strib, but in his blog at KSTP radio.

I’ll say what I’ve said before (and often), we — the whole damned country — are chumps for the NFL, excuse me, the non-profit NFL. The mix of martial combat, brute machismo and show biz mythologizing makes for an irresistible marketing package. Which is fine. In America everyone’s got something to sell. But what a newspaper like the Star Tribune is supposed to be selling is skepticism, among other vital virtues.

The sports culture’s radio and TV front men, the jocks and sports anchors, have a clear vested interest in boosting/shilling for the fundamental assets of the home team. While cranks like me might admire them more if they made a full-throated, common sense argument against the NFL’s “standard” financing package for these extravagant stadiums, I get that they’re basically publicity agents for the local teams and the league. For them there is no financial upside to quarreling with how the NFL chooses to do business.

But people who regularly lay claim to being “hard-nosed”, “bulldog” reporters have no excuse for running as little contradictory information about the stadium contract as the Strib did during the long, long legislative negotiating saga.

As I say, the opinion page’s drumbeat support, as appalling as it was to people like me who saw so little effort made to deviate from that “standard” financing model — one that always includes the threat of moving the beloved local team to Los Angeles, (a move that would cost the other 31 financially-adroit owners a hell of a lot of money in comparison to carving up a likely $1 billion fee for creating an entirely new team there) — was not surprising. The publishers and owners of enterprises as large as the Strib think of themselves as peers to team owners, and like the NFL plutocracy are generally familiar with the myriad benefits of tax and taxpayer manipulation.

The question for the Strib of this generation is this: In the context of the Vikings stadium saga, who in the newsroom is prepared to publicly assert that the firewall between the publisher’s financial interests and the newsroom’s journalistic instincts was never breached? That in no way were editorial responsibilities in this very expensive matter obstructed or diluted as a result of influence from the executive suites?

Finally, to Kaszuba and Olson … nice work.

But as Columbo used to say, “There’s just one little thing that bothers me.”

In the course of laying out all the freebies the NFL demands — the police escorts, the free parking, the deleted taxes, the NFL channel in official hotels, the 180-person, all-expenses-paid junket — would it have been too much to drop in one short line about how all these niggling perks are to the benefit of … some of the richest human beings on the planet? Truly the .1% of the 1%ers?

I know, I know, that would be “editorializing”, an unforgivable cardinal sin of serious journalism. But it would have put things in a perspective the average subscriber might better understand.

– Brian Lambert

Is Chris Kluwe Getting A Same-Sex Divorce?

Statistically speaking, Chris Kluwe is the best punter in Minnesota Vikings history, according to KFAN Vikings analyst Paul Allen.

Yet this weekend, the Vikings used a high draft pick — high for a punter anyway, a fifth rounder — to potentially replace Kluwe. The Vikings say this move is strictly about Mr. Kluwe’s on-the-field performance, and has nothing to do with any off-the-field issues.

As noted, Kluwe’s punting career statistics just don’t warrant a firing.  Moreover, Kluwe is not trending downward.  He is coming off his best statistical year of his eight year NFL career, averaging a net 39.7 yards per punt.

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