A few days before the Twin Cities Pride parade, the Vikings will host a summit and fundraiser June 21 at their new headquarters in Eagan designed to promote LGBTQ inclusion in sports and raise money for LGBTQ groups.
The Vikings, who are believed to be the first NFL team to host an event like this, organized the fundraiser in part to fulfill a pledge they made in a settlement with former punter Chris Kluwe, who threatened to sue the team in 2014 after special teams coordinator Mike Priefer used anti-gay language.
Kluwe will be one of the speakers at the event, which includes, among others, former Olympic diver Greg Louganis and former Vikings defensive end Esera Tuaolo.
“We obviously had our issues a while ago, but this is our way of looking forward and trying to figure out how we make sure that we set the stage for that not to happen again,” Kluwe said. “I think that it’s the ideal outcome in that, at the end of the day, hopefully this will help a lot of people that otherwise might not have gotten that help.”
The Vikings will invite 200 people from within the organization, other NFL teams and from colleges and high schools around the Twin Cities. There will be four panels that will highlight how coaches and players can make sports a more welcome environment for LGBTQ athletes, while the fundraising aspect of the night will include a silent auction for local and national LGBTQ groups.
“2014 was unfortunate on multiple levels, but one thing I can say about this organization and to commend Chris is we were able to look over the horizon,” Vikings Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren said. “The easy thing to do is to be negative and to judge what could or could not have been done. The more mature thing to do is to say: What can we do to take a situation where we can really grow and make a difference in the lives of people?”
Kluwe said he hopes Priefer will attend and added that back in 2014 he could not have envisioned a day when he and the Vikings would come together to create an event like this. The terms of the Kluwe-Vikings settlement called for the team to host an LGBTQ fundraiser, and they worked together recently to make it happen this June.
“It’s a testament to the way both of us have been able to work past that,” Kluwe said. “It’s a big deal to have an NFL team ... put on a summit for LGBTQ issues.”
Warren said the Vikings will plan on holding a similar summit in years to come and may try to include other local teams. “We definitely want to make sure this is not a one-time event. I can say that with confidence,” Warren said.
Kluwe hopes executives from other teams will attend the summit and be inspired to help make sports a welcome place for LGBTQ athletes to come out and thrive.
“It will get teams closer, but how close really depends on how many upper-level coaches and administrators teams decide to send in order to attend this,” he said. “Players these days, they grow up with gay relatives and gay teammates. It’s not so much a players’ issue as it is who’s the person signing the check and what views do they have? Until that changes, not a whole lot is going to change.”