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.

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.

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

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