Commentary

Chris Kluwe won't back down

Updated: July 15, 2014, 11:29 PM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPN.com

For a few years now, Chris Kluwe has easily been the NFL's most stubborn iconoclast. No one else comes close. Even before he held a press conference Tuesday to announce he intends to sue the Minnesota Vikings for wrongful termination and a bundle of other things because of their alleged refusal to show him the results of a six-month independent investigation into his charges, he had the battle scars and scalding posts on Deadspin.com to prove it.

And so, while it may not be clear for at least a few more days which side is completely telling the truth in his latest skirmish, this much is indisputable: The Vikings should've known that, at minimum, Kluwe is not the sort of man you can discreetly buy off or tell to shut up.

The Vikings and NFL were reminded of that again Tuesday when a new issue came into play: Did Kluwe and his attorney Clayton Halunen overreact by hastily calling a press conference and threatening to sue the Vikings when, really, all of this could be settled at the Thursday meeting the two sides are still scheduled to have?

The Vikings released a statement later in the day that said they neither made nor reneged on any promises to Kluwe's side; the team said it hired more attorneys to vet the report before deciding what action to take because, essentially, no report shall be released before its time.

But why are the Vikings behaving as if they have something to hide, Kluwe countered.

And if they don't, then why would an unnamed team official have allegedly told Kluwe's attorney on Monday that the club didn't intend to publicly release its findings about whether Kluwe had been harassed by Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer, and asked to stop making publicly statements about his political and religious views by general manager Rick Spielman and since-fired head coach Leslie Frasier, and answer whether Kluwe was eventually cut in 2013 because of it all, as Kluwe alleges?

[+] EnlargeMike Priefer
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallAttorney Clayton Halunen says that special teams coach Mike Priefer has twice admitted to making remarks against gays as Chris Kluwe alleged.

Kluwe laid out the details about that, and more, in a Deadspin post in January that was titled, "I Was An NFL Player Until I Was Fired By Two Cowards and A Bigot."

If you accept the Vikings' denial Tuesday that they've refused to release the report findings, then what it suggests is Halunen must have the worst hearing and/or reading comprehension skills of anyone certified by the Minnesota Bar. Or else he's lying. Or merely grandstanding.

Otherwise, how could he get the Vikings' message so terribly wrong that he would call Kluwe on Monday and ask him to board a red-eye flight from his home in Southern California, then stand with him at Tuesday's press conference (where Kluwe appeared wearing a T-shirt under his sports jacket that read, "Punters Are People Too") and say suing the Vikings is necessary for Kluwe to get a fair shake and complete look at the report?

"I was hoping we'd be having a different kind of press conference today," Kluwe said later in a telephone conversation with ESPN.com. "But I guess there must be something in that report that the Vikings don't like. And they shouldn't be able to sweep it under the rug. For me, this has never been about money.

"It's about challenging and changing something in the NFL culture that is not right."

It's worth noting in the wait for the investigation to be concluded, the Vikings and Kluwe's side discussed making a $1 million donation as part of some settlement, according to Kluwe.

Why would the Vikings do even that much?

Could this be it: Could the investigators have found some veracity to Kluwe's charges? In his first-person Deadspin post he alleged, among other things, that Priefer said at a special teams meeting that Kluwe attended, "We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows."

After twice denying making that statement, Priefer eventually admitted it upon learning what witnesses had said, according to Halunen.

The attorney also said Tuesday that Kluwe was subjected to statements by Priefer about being agnostic.

"We also know that Chris' claims were corroborated by many different witnesses, and that this goes up to the highest ranks of Vikings management," Halunen added.

[+] EnlargeChris Kluwe
AP Photo/Evan VucciChris Kluwe's NFL career appears to be over -- for whatever reason. He's now a stay-at-home dad.

Kluwe and Halunen believe the 150-page or so independent review the Vikings just received from former Minnesota Supreme Court chief justice Eric Magnuson and former U.S. Department of Justice attorney Chris Madel, both partners at Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi will support his allegations that he was harassed during his stay with the Vikings and perhaps wrongfully fired.

Kluwe swears that's what he wants.

"From the start we've said any [settlement] money we received would be donated to LGBT causes, and it would be the same if we sue and win -- there would just be a lot more zeroes involved," Kluwe said.

Kluwe is fully aware his critics have countered that he had three tryouts last season and didn't stick with any of those teams. His critics say those outcomes support the Vikings' argument that he was released for football reasons only.

And maybe it does. Maybe it doesn't.

But this story isn't only about a kicker no longer getting to kick.

It's about the far bigger issue of whether you can be harassed or kicked out of the league by your bosses for what you think or believe.

As such, the NFL's explanation Tuesday about why the league isn't involved in investigating Kluwe's charges though it appointed Ted Wells to run the investigation into the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito bullying scandal in Miami felt somehow dissatisfying.

Both cases involve players alleging hostile work environments. Only Kluwe seems dangling out there by himself.

League spokesman Greg Aiello explained via email: "Personnel matters of this nature are normally addressed by the team. In the Dolphins' case, the team asked our office to conduct the review and we agreed to do that.

"We have been informed of the progress of the investigation but have not directed the work of the independent counsel. We will carefully review the final product of the investigation and if it is necessary for our office to become involved, we would do so."

In the interim, it's no wonder Kluwe resorted to threatening to sue to crowbar open a good look into what the Vikings' investigation and its rumored 1,600 footnotes will show about his treatment.

Whether you agree with Kluwe's politics or manner or methods, this much is indisputable about him too: He was not willing to compromise his beliefs back when he still played for the Vikings and had everything to lose. And he isn't going to change and call off the fight now that he apparently has indeed gone and lost it all.

Asked if he believes he's been blackballed out of the NFL, Kluwe says, "Yes."

His NFL career seems over at the age of 32.

Kluwe still works out but with training camp just around the corner, says he hasn't had a call since January.

He wasn't the second coming of one of his heroes, Ray Guy, but he still left the Vikings as the best statistical punter in franchise history and consistently ranked in the middle to top third in league stats each year.

He knows punters are supposed to be seen but go unheard in the NFL, and that at his position teams aren't willing to tolerate "much baggage" or expense.

But to the last, he hasn't been willing to compromise his principles. And he deserves some admiration for that.

"My wife got a job [as a social worker] and I'm a stay-at-home dad right now," says Kluwe, who is also involved in a band, and has published one book and was asked to do a sequel.

He knows he brought this on himself. When asked how he's held up through this, he laughs and "You mean, besides being reminded about the moral frailties of human beings?"

But even then, he doesn't evince a moment's regret.

"Even my father has said to me, 'Why don't you at least fight to recover the last year of your salary the Vikings were supposed to pay you?' But for me, that would change was this is about," Kluwe said.

If Kluwe's said this once, he's said it a million times.

Too bad the words don't have more hang time than one of his punts.

"For me, this is about doing and standing up for what's right," he says.

"That's it."

Johnette Howard is an award-winning writer and author who previously worked for Sports Illustrated, The Washington Post, and Newsday. She contributes general sports columns to ESPN.com and ESPNNewYork.com.

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