It’s now official. The Vikings have cut punter Chris Kluwe.
The 31-year-old was given the news Monday morning at Winter Park during a meeting with General Manager Rick Spielman. Kluwe had been anticipating the move, one that became transparent April 27 when the team used a fifth-round draft pick on UCLA punter Jeff Locke.
Locke participated in the team’s three-day rookie mini-camp over the weekend and fared well enough for the Vikings to feel totally secure in selecting him. And that meant kicking the door open and sending Kluwe on his way.
This morning, on his Twitter account (@ChrisWarcraft), Kluwe wrote: “Thank you to all the fans, my teammates, and the Wilf family for the past 8.5 years. I wouldn't have traded it for anything.”
In eight years with the Vikings, Kluwe launched 623 regular season punts, averaging 44.4 yards per punt with a 37.3-yard net. Last season, he averaged 45.0 yards per punt with a career-best 39.7-yard net. Kluwe was inconsistent at times but still had a productive campaign overall.
Still, the Vikings wanted a change in direction, something that first became obvious in January when Spielman signed punter T.J. Conley as a street free agent to come in and push Kluwe.
Upon drafting Locke, Conley was promptly let go. And it was widely believed Kluwe would be soon to follow. On Monday, he received his pink slip and will now be free to seek work elsewhere.
Kluwe’s release will not come without some controversy. The veteran punter has raised his profile in recent years by speaking out on political and social issues, most notably taking a firm stance in support of gay rights and marriage equality.
In the past year, Kluwe has appeared across many platforms expressing his opinion. He made TV appearances on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” and NBC’s “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” to speak out on behalf of gay rights. Kluwe was also featured on the cover of the October issue of Out, a popular magazine that describes itself as “a gay and lesbian perspective on style, entertainment, fashion, the arts, politics, culture, and the world at large.”
Kluwe’s outspoken opinions have also frequently been published on Deadspin.com.
With those extracurricular activities, cynics will ask whether the Vikings’ releasing of Kluwe is tied entirely to football ability or simply a way of ridding the organization of a player who had grown too outspoken on hot-button issues. After drafting Locke, Spielman insisted he was simply trying to upgrade the team’s special teams and that he did not take issue with any of Kluwe’s opinions.
“It has nothing to do with anything Chris Kluwe is off the field,” the GM said. “When we’re making decisions, we’re purely making them trying to bring in the best competition possible regardless of position. ... This was just another normal personnel move. It had nothing to do with Chris Kluwe’s off-field concerns, I have no issues if Chris Kluwe wants to express his opinion. That’s his right, that’s his freedom of speech. This is just a football decision to bring in a guy to come in to compete.”
The Vikings’ most recent football decision now hands the punting and holding duties over to Locke as Kluwe ventures back out to seek work elsewhere in the league.
He is hoping to catch on somewhere, certain he still has plenty left in the tank. But if and when Kluwe lands with a new team, he isn't likely to keep his opinions to himself.
As he said in an interview with the Star Tribune's Chip Scoggins last week: "I’ve had guys talk to me. They’re not going to put stuff out there just because they know in the NFL the upright nail generally gets hammered down. There’s a lot of very smart guys in the NFL. But you never hear about them because they take care of business and then go home. You hear about the dumb guys because they go out and get arrested. Everyone looks at it like, oh, the NFL is filled with all these dumb, knuckle-dragging guys who get in trouble all the time. No, that’s the people you hear about. There are so many more people who are actually interesting and fascinating."
Kluwe finishes his Vikings tenure as the leader in career punting average, with his 44.4 yards per kick ranking ahead of both Harry Newsome (43.8 yards from 1990 to 1993) and Mitch Berger (43.5, 1996-2001). Kluwe also had a franchise-record 198 punts downed inside the 20.
Here's Chris Kluwe from his appearance on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" :
Here's Kluwe on "The Colbert Report":
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