In 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.
Note: This post was also published by MinnPost.