Thursday, January 9, 2014

Chris Klu-less

Last week Chris Kluwe published an open letter on Deadspin taking the Minnesota Vikings organization to task over his firing nearly a year ago. By the end of the letter, it becomes clear that his chief motivation was to discourage anyone in the NFL from hiring Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer. Ever. Again.* I had initially decided to let this one go, but I’ve been asked about it a couple of times and still see it floating around on the internet nearly a week after, so I suppose I’ll add my two three cents. Here goes:

*Update: maybe not. I’m sure this latest change of heart is purely the result of personal reflection and no other outside forces.

1.  Kluwe’s teammates call BS
So far three Vikings (Blair Walsh, Jeff Locke, and Harrison Smith) have spoken out on the accusations and all have supported Priefer to varying degrees. Given that the most common response to Kluwe’s initial letter was “let’s see if we can’t get some other people who witnessed the alleged incidents to come forward,” Walsh et al’s testimony is pretty damaging. Of course, others could still weigh in (it would be great to hear from someone outside of both the Vikings and Kluwe camps), but as it stands Kluwe’s version of the truth doesn’t seem to have much base in reality.

2.  The punter just wasn’t that good
To be fair, Kluwe never claimed to be among the game’s best, but he did claim to be a middle-of-the-pack-to-upper-third kind of guy. Unfortunately, in 2012 he just wasn’t (something alluded to by Walsh in the aforelinked piece). He resided in the bottom third for yards per punt (per Pro Football Reference). His net yards per punt was just barely below league average and he did have a nice ratio of touchbacks to punts downed inside the 20 (per The Football Database), but those two stats depend pretty heavily on that coverage unit he said was so terrible. Regardless, kickers in football are kind of like closers in baseball – they only matter if you’re good. The Vikings, despite making the playoffs in 2012, clearly weren’t. When a team is looking for pieces across the board – including a gaping hole at quarterback – paying for an aging punter doesn’t make much sense.* And for the record, the best Vikings punter of all time is Mitch Berger. Maybe walk around with a Snickers bar** in your shoe for a couple years and then we can talk.

**Berger would actually keep the candy bar in his spare shoe, not the one he wore.

3.  A lapse in logic
Kluwe cites an exchange with Vikings owner (and video game villain*) Zygi Wilf in which Wilf thanked him for speaking out on the issue of gay rights and stressed how personally important it was to him. Kluwe later used that endorsement to defend his actions to Coach Frazier, but for some reason was hesitant to go to Wilf with his concerns about Priefer. He clearly knew Wilf’s support held much sway within the organization, so why did Kluwe decline to go to the owner when he felt he was being fired for his activism? I have never heard of a special teams coach wielding enough power to overrule an owner, after all “he [Wilf] writes the checks.”

Put simply, Kluwe’s arguments don’t stand up to scrutiny. But to be honest, at this point I hope Kluwe’s allegations are proven true. If not, he has straight up bullied another human being for no apparent reason. That’s slightly ironic. And really, really messed up.

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