Chris Kluwe saw his release coming for more than a week. The veteran punter made that clear Monday when discussing the Vikings’ decision to cut him after eight seasons. Once the team used a fifth-round draft choice on UCLA’s Jeff Locke, Kluwe knew his time here was up.
The Vikings’ organization, of course, had to know the move would trigger some fallout given Kluwe’s heightened profile and consistent push to speak out on issues he feels strongly about. In the past year, Kluwe had become particularly engaged as an advocate in the push for gay rights and marriage equality. And so even if the Vikings and General Manager Rick Spielman insist the move to replace Kluwe with Locke was solely football-based, there’s no way for the organization to avoid the skepticism that their decision to divorce from Kluwe had ulterior motives.
This morning at the Capitol, Governor Mark Dayton became the latest to question the Vikings on the Kluwe topic.
“I don’t feel good about it,” Dayton said. “I mean I’m not in position to evaluate the role and their punting abilities. But it seems to me the general manager said right after the draft that they were going to have competition. Well, then he brings the one guy [Locke] in, he kicks for a weekend and that’s the competition? I mean, I just think sports officials ought to be honest about what the heck is going on. Same way I think public officials should be honest about what’s going on. So that bothers me probably as much if not more than the actual decision.”
Dayton was originally addressing – or more exactly evading – questions on the state’s plans for backup funding for the new Vikings’ stadium, designs for which will be unveiled Monday. But then he brought up Kluwe’s release and was asked whether he thought it was related to the punter’s stance in the gay marriage debate.
“I can’t say for sure,” Dayton replied. “But if you’re going to check and see who’s the better kicker under the pressure of an NFL season, seems to me you at least go into the exhibition games and have them both kicking under that kind of pressure. If you’re to have true competition, that’s how I would think you’d resolve it in a straightforward way.
“But that’s their decision to make. They don’t give me political advice. I don’t give them coaching advice.”
The governor is far from the only one weighing in on Kluwe’s job loss. On Tuesday, ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” addressed the debate with Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon going back and forth on the uncomfortable subplot to the whole transaction.
That discussion went as follows:
Kornheiser: Kluwe joins former Baltimore Ravens special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo as an outspoken gay rights advocate without an NFL job. And while that raises eyebrows, Kluwe also ranked 31st of 39 punters in punts downed inside the 20 last season. So Mike, does Kluwe’s dismissal smell to you?
Wilbon: Yeah, it kind of does. And it’s easy to make the case to cut Kluwe. He ain’t that good. He’s making a mill-and-a-half. And in the NFL you can go and get somebody for cheaper, particularly a punter out of college. It’s easy to make the case to cut him. But …
Kornheiser: And he’s mouthed off for a lot of years …
Wilbon: About a number of things.
Kornheiser: About a lot of things. About a lot of things.
Wilbon: But because of that, Tony, you know that I’m a lot less distrustful of NFL management than you are. And any time the word distraction comes up in an NFL building, they want to get rid of the person. This is going to be a distraction. It’s part of the reason I said the NFL locker room, the NFL culture, doesn’t want any part of any distraction like this. Or him.
Kornheiser: Well, they’ll take a distraction if it’s Tom Brady or if it’s Peyton Manning. Because they’re great players. And this guy’s not only not a very good punter …
Wilbon: And marginal at best.
Kornheiser: And just being a punter, it’s not Adrian Peterson. OK. So it’s a whole different deal. But it bothers me that both he and Ayanbadejo are out right now. I can’t believe that the NFL is going to allow that to happen all season long. Just like I can’t believe that the NBA is going to allow Jason Collins not to be in the league next year.
Wilbon: Ok. I’m much more with you on the latter. They’re different cultures. One doesn’t say the word distraction like it’s a four-letter word. You know the NFL does this.
Kornheiser: I’m telling you that to move forward in society, you can’t let this linger and waft with a bad smell.