Why Was Chris Kluwe Really Released – Cowardice, Bigotry, Or…He Wasn’t Very Good?
by Steve Caronia
I like Chris Kluwe.
He’s a smart guy. A thoughtful guy. He “gets it” in my opinion, if that makes any sense. He also seems like a cool, down to earth guy. Kluwe actually answered a series of questions I posed to him about the crown of the helmet rule a while ago and, without blinking, allowed us to put it on our site. Pretty awesome.
So please, don’t consider what I’m about to say a smear campaign. I swear its not.
However…I think Kluwe’s recent claims in his piece on Deadspin are mostly bogus. His follow up Q&A with USA Today doesn’t help either. I’m not saying he’s lying about what was said (how the hell would I know that, anyway), but there are a number of problems with his self-assessment as a punter and the timing with which he’s saying all this.
Let’s talk about Kluwe as a punter. He makes a lot of claims in this article that are true but a fantastic exercise in lying with statistics. He uses his numbers to bolster his argument that his outspoken nature and opinions being in direct disagreement with Mike Priefer were the primary reasons behind him being “fired”. I don’t think his argument is very compelling.
First, Kluwe says that his “gross average in 2012 was almost exactly my career average”, a statement which is true. What he is omitting is where that steady average ranks in the NFL year to year. In 2007, when Kluwe signed a 7 year, $8.735 million contract, he was ranked 8th in the NFL. Pretty good and deserving of a contract. Here’s his rankings after that: 4, 15, 21, 13, 22. So, while Kluwe kept up his average, much of the league seemed to have passed him by. In his Q&A with USA Today, Kluwe reiterated how his numbers where “the same as they’d always been” but again, it’s clear they were not the same relative to the rest of the NFL.
This leads me to my second point: while Kluwe says he is “statistically the greatest punter in Vikings history”, he is again playing with numbers. If you look at the top 100 single season punting averages in NFL history, a whopping 68 of them occurred since Kluwe entered the league in 2005 (Kluwe has one of them, 47.6 in 2008, good for 34th). What does this say? That if you use average yards per punt (Kluwe’s measure, it seems) to gauge a punter’s greatness, then almost EVERYBODY in the last 8 years is their team’s greatest punter of all time. Punters kick farther than they used to, period.
Kluwe also speaks about how he was told by Priefer to punt “higher and shorter, because our coverage team sucks”. This is probably true, and Kluwe is undoubtedly using this piece of information to prove that he sacrifices his “numbers” for the team. Unfortunately, Pete Damilatis of Pro Football Focus pointed out the following on Twitter:
Fair catches and return are influenced by said coverage unit, but Damilatis makes a great point. In addition:
So while Kluwe thinks that he’s been consistent and undeserving of losing his contract, the way he stacks up to other punters (the very ones he mentions getting long contracts) is sorely lacking.
Kluwe is an intelligent guy and is acutely aware of his place in the pecking order as a punter in the NFL (right or wrong). He wrote this to the NFL Hall of Fame selection committee decrying the fact the Ray Guy and every other punter in history are absent from Canton. He also had a partly funny/partly awkward/partly inane exchange with a former NFL tight end about the punters place in the pecking order, among other things. Point being, Kluwe knows that his status as a punter is going to make him more susceptible to being dropped. Still he insists that his conflict with Priefer is the main impetus and that “those actions do not make sense. You don’t replace a veteran guy who’s clearly still performing.”
Um…is he serious? Productive NFL veterans get cut every single year by the dozens as cap casualties. Shit, veterans in corporate America get “cut” for lower paid, younger prospective employees every frigging day. Does he really think it’s unusual that a punter with a declining performance relative to his peers got cut so they could sign a rookie for 1/3 the price? This happens constantly in the NFL to players who play every position.
I won’t say that Kluwe’s outspoken nature had NOTHING to do with his being released, but it may have just expedited the process, not caused it. My lifting coach had a saying about relationships: “The fuckin’ you’re gettin’ better be worth the fuckin’ your gettin’.” And a punter with middling performance, calling the player’s union most high-profile representatives “douchebags” during a labor dispute, drawing negative press with disparaging comments about the pope, and calling an elected official a “fromunda stain” may not be worth the fuckin’ the Vikings were gettin’. I’ll bet those issues weighed on the Vikings’ management more than Kluwe’s views on homosexuality did. Kluwe even mentioned getting a vote of confidence on the issue from the owner of the team. Preira had a bigger voice than him? C’mon.
Look at guys like Terrell Owens and Randy Moss. They were insufferable at times, drawing negative attention and controversy at every turn. Probably did WAY more to hurt their teams than Kluwe ever did. But the only time the stopped playing was when the balance of their value added to the team teetered lower than what they detracted from it. A player like Kluwe sits on a much more precarious perch.
The most disheartening part of this entire saga is that the dialogue will probably not be directed where it should be, and a huge reason for that is Kluwe himself. He makes it very clear what his aim is:
“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.”
Q: So, you want an apology, you want an admission of wrongdoing and you want Priefer to be gone. A: Yeah. That’s it. That’s all I’m looking for.
Kluwe comes across as making this about himself. Not homophobia. Not eliminating anti-gay diatribe from NFL locker rooms and anywhere else for that matter. Now, I don’t think Kluwe actually feels that way, especially given his track record as an activist. Sadly, that’s how many people are going to perceive this. In addition, he waited until it was apparent that getting a job in the NFL was highly unlikely before coming out with this story. The public is going to have more debate questioning the skill, character, and integrity of Kluwe than they will worrying about whether or not Priefer is a bigot and if there are many other coaches like him enshrouded throughout the league. Just like I’m inclined to do right now.
As we saw with the Martin/Incognito situation, NFL locker rooms are often divided in these scenarios (or at least they seem that way on the surface). We’ll see what unfolds in the coming days/weeks. My biggest hope is that the discussion shifts away from Chris Kluwe and towards the acceptance and tolerance he so persistently advocates.
Steve Caronia is a New York City based physical therapist. He still thinks Chris Kluwe is great.