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Vikings failed gay community with Chris Kluwe investigation

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The man who got Kluwe involved in the same-sex marriage fight says team's punishment of coach for gay slur is woefully inadequate.

Chris Kluwe, center, flanked by Brad Michael and Tracy Call for Minnesotans for Equality
Chris Kluwe, center, flanked by Brad Michael and Tracy Call for Minnesotans for Equality

For as long as I can remember I have been a sports fan.  Sports are how I felt connected to my friends in the small town in southwest Iowa where I grew up.  When you grow up in a state with no professional sports team it’s sometimes hard to pick a favorite team. When I moved to Minnesota 15 years ago, though, there was no question: I was instantly a Minnesota Vikings fan. 

I would wear my purple on Sunday, join my friends at a local sports bar or, if I was lucky, attend a game.  Attending Vikings games is always a good time and I can remember each instance when I was able to go to the Metrodome to see a game in person.  Once, when I took my nephew to see the Vikings play the Cowboys, I even painted my bald head to look like a Vikings helmet.  I was also personally moved when last season I stood on the field during a game and watched Esera Tuaolo, a former Viking who is openly gay, sing the national anthem and watch as the All-Metrodome team was introduced at halftime. 

In May 2011 I stood in the Minnesota State Capitol as the State House of Representatives debated and ultimately passed an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment, meaning the citizens of Minnesota would have to decide in 2012 if they wanted write discrimination into our State Constitution.  Even now it is difficult for me to describe my feeling that night, but I certainly have not forgotten how I felt.  That night as I left the Capitol I made a vow to do everything I could to defeat the amendment.  I wasn’t sure what or how, I just knew this was personal and that there was too much at state to sit on the sidelines. 

Just a few months after that night I decided to take a chance and reach out to Vikings punter Chris Kluwe. I had been following him on Twitter and thought maybe he would be willing to speak up against the proposed amendment.  To say that I was stunned that he even replied would be a huge understatement.

I could not comprehend how this gay, small-town kid was actually talking to a professional football player.  Chris immediately said he didn’t agree with the proposed amendment and would be willing to do what he could to help defeat it.  At the time I was not affiliated with any gay rights groups, I was just some guy with a Twitter account.

I first contacted the major group that had been formed here in Minnesota to defeat the amendment and told them that I had contacted a Vikings player who was willing to get involved.  I was told that the group had a three-step plan to defeat the amendment and that a football player didn’t really fit into that plan.  I remember telling them, "Hey, he is a pro football player with 42,000 Twitter followers" (far less than he has now by the way).  They simply said that he is just a punter, but maybe we can use him later.

After months of frustration that nobody seemed to understand the impact an NFL player could have on the debate of gay marriage, I was put on touch with Tracy Call of Minnesotans for Equality. She realized the impact Chris could have and immediately got to work.  Just days before our first fundraiser with Chris in 2012, he wrote his now-famous Deadspin "lustful cockmonster" article in defense of gay marriage.  The rest is history.  Chris' face was everywhere – newspapers, magazines, TV and the Internet – and most importantly the issue of gay marriage had finally made it to the front page of the sports section and even ESPN.  Chris helped start the conversation in the one place where not many were talking about it.  Because he did, Minnesota that November became the first state in 33 to defeat an anti-gay marriage amendment, which played a big part in marriage equality now being the law in Minnesota.

When the Vikings decided to cut Chris from the team in 2013 I was obviously disappointed but had hoped he would get picked up by another team and continue his career in the NFL.  But when I read the article he wrote in Deadspin earlier this year about what he went through in the Vikings organization during the time he was advocating for equality, I felt terrible and a little bit responsible.  I couldn’t believe that someone would have to endure such hateful, vile comments from his position coach because he spoke up for people like me.  I had also mistakenly believed we were getting to a time where we had moved beyond, or tolerated such conduct – even in the NFL. 

When the Vikings quickly announced in January that they were "committed to a full accounting and transparent process and plan to leave no stone unturned" in investigating the alleged homophobic conduct of special teams coach Mike Priefer,  I took them at their word and trusted that they would do just that.  But I was dead wrong.  The Vikings have fumbled when it comes to the handling of this.  The Vikings believe that releasing just part of the report and a mere slap on the wrist for the coach who lied about hateful, vile comments are enough to satisfy Minnesotans and NFL fans.  It is not enough. 

We can debate until we are red in the face whether the Vikings cut Chris because of his performance or the amount of money he was getting paid.  Frankly, that misses the much larger issue.  The investigation found corroborating evidence that Priefer said: "We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows."  Do the Vikings and Coach Priefer understand that comments like that are what lead young LGBT people to kill themselves or force athletes to remain hidden in the closet?  Substitute the word "gays" with "Black" or "Jews."  Do you think if the coach had used those words he would have received a three-game suspension, which can be reduced to two if he attends sensitivity training?  By the way, what kind of training is he going to be required to attend for lying about the entire incident on several occasions?

The Vikings also say that players and management were concerned about the distraction that Chris' activism was creating, as opposed to the nature and content of his activism. I have to ask the Vikings -- was it also a distraction when you had him make appearances at Mall of America on several occasions or when he appeared at an event to help box food for a food bank –- all during the time he was advocating for equal rights? 

The conduct by the Coach Priefer and the Vikings should concern us all.  Here in Minnesota we should hold all employers to a high standard when it comes to discrimination and speaking out against it. Had a politician or the CEO of any of the major companies here in Minnesota made these same comments, people would be outraged and demanding more. And the so called "gay rights organizations" wouldn’t be as silent as they have been.  But because it’s the Vikings we seem to be giving them a pass.  This is the same team that for the next two seasons will be playing at the University of Minnesota campus and then move into a billion-dollar taxpayer subsidized stadium.

If our state's anti-discrimination laws are to have any meaning, if the fight to end discrimination is to mean anything at all, if the NFL is serious about creating a welcoming environment for all players, then we must demand that the Vikings release the entire report and that they take serious steps to eliminate the type of behavior exhibited by Priefer. 

The Vikings should release the entire report, they should outline what steps are being taken within the organization to eliminate the type of behavior exhibited by Priefer; they should increase the amount of money they will donate to GLBT causes (from a proposed $100,000 to $1 million); Priefer should be given a longer suspension and he should be be required to attend sensitivity training, which could include a visit to a a homeless shelter for gay youth or a visit with a family who has lost a son or daughter to suicide because of hurtful anti-gay comments. It's the least the team can do.

Brad Michael was chair of Minnesotans For Equality during the 2012 campaign. A big sports fan, he lives in downtown Minneapolis and works as a criminal defense investigator. He can be followed on Twitter (https://twitter.com/Bam2).