Just before a big playoff weekend, the sports website Deadspin published an open letter by former Minnesota Viking Chris Kluwe, titled "I Was An NFL Player Until I Was Fired By Two Cowards And A Bigot." Kluwe, a straight man, says his outspoken support of same-sex marriage cost him his job.
"In my mind, there's no logical conclusion that can be drawn, other than that I was fired for my activism," Kluwe tells Michel Martin, host of NPR's Tell Me More.
"My numbers and my stats were exactly the same. I was doing what the coaches wanted me to do. And what I had been doing up to that point was enough to get me a very well-paying contract with the Vikings. ... In my mind there was only one thing that had changed from the year before and the year I got cut: And that was I started speaking out in support of same-sex rights."
In a statement, the Vikings maintained "Chris was released strictly based on his football performance." But the team later launched an investigation into some of Kluwe's claims.
The Vikings did not respond to NPR's request for an interview.
"One of the main things I want people to understand is that this isn't me against the Vikings," Kluwe tells Martin. "I love the Vikings. I had a great time with the Vikings. ...This is me and three very specific people."
The people Kluwe calls "cowards" are former Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier and current General Manager Rick Spielman. Kluwe says they both tried to discourage him from speaking out about gay marriage. Kluwe calls special teams coach Mike Priefer a "bigot," accusing him of making homophobic slurs.
In his letter, Kluwe recalls Priefer saying, "We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows."
"If there's one thing I hope to achieve from sharing this story, it's to make sure that Mike Priefer never holds a coaching position again in the NFL, and ideally never coaches at any level," Kluwe wrote.
Martin asks Kluwe whether he'll feel like he's failed if Priefer continues coaching the Vikings or gets a head coaching job elsewhere.
"I won't feel that I failed. I'll be a little disappointed in the NFL. ... As a business you should probably be examining, hey, is this the type of message we want to send?" Kluwe says. "At the same time, I think, if Mike Preifer is willing to make a legitimate effort to actually educate himself and learn why what he said was so hateful, then you know, at some point I'm not averse to him coming back and coaching because he is a good special teams coach."
The NFL declined to comment further.
On why marriage equality is so important to him
Even though I may enjoy those rights right now, there's no guarantee that will happen in the future. ... If you're not willing to speak out for the rights of other people, then who do you expect to speak out for you when it's your turn?
On comparisons to Phil Robertson's Duck Dynasty suspension
I never said the Vikings couldn't fire me for doing that [advocating for same-sex marriage rights]. As a private corporation, they totally have the right to do that. ... Same with Phil Robertson. We both are entitled to our beliefs. We're both entitled to our views and we're allowed to speak out on those views. However, we are both also entitled to the consequences of those views.
On possibly being blacklisted
Coaches and GMs tend to regard punters as a very replaceable position ... and with other teams ... [they may think], 'OK this guy was cut from the Vikings, he spoke out a lot. If we have the choice between signing him, and signing someone else who may not be as consistent but probably won't, you know, bring as much media attention, well, we're going to go with the guy who doesn't bring media attention,' because head coaches hate having attention on their teams.