The Oakland Raiders signed Kluwe shortly afterward, but the team cut him before he played a single game.

NFL executives told Sports Illustrated that the NFL is still too much of a "man-to-man's game" for a gay player, and that someone like Michael Sam would "chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room."

Four months later, in January 2014, after Priefer was rumored as a potential successor to Frazier, Kluwe published his allegations to Deadspin, calling Priefer a homophobe and Frazier and team general manager Rick Spielman cowards. Though he couldn't say for certain, he said he believes that his activism was the reason he was fired.

Priefer quickly offered a vehement denial of the allegations. "I want to be clear that I do not tolerate discrimination of any type and am respectful of all individuals," he wrote. "I personally have gay family members who I love and support just as I do any family member."

Athletes party at Howard Bragman's house the night before Sam's big announcement. From left: Wade Davis, David Kopay, Michael Sam, Chris Kluwe, Billy Bean, Brendon Ayanbadejo.
Brian Spurlock/USA Today Sports
Athletes party at Howard Bragman's house the night before Sam's big announcement. From left: Wade Davis, David Kopay, Michael Sam, Chris Kluwe, Billy Bean, Brendon Ayanbadejo.
Former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe continues to fight for LGBT rights in sports, even though his own career is finished.
Andy Mannix
Former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe continues to fight for LGBT rights in sports, even though his own career is finished.

The Vikings also denied Kluwe's claim that they dismissed him because of his activism, but the team still hired a team of investigators to look into the allegations. Former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson and Chris Madel, a one-time prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice, are leading the probe. Madel in particular has a reputation for his thorough investigative work in athletics cases; he conducted the Fiesta Bowl investigation into political kickbacks in Arizona in 2011, finding that bowl employees had made $46,539 in illegal campaign contributions.

"They have a pretty good track record with the Fiesta Bowl," says Kluwe. "I think that they're invested in actually getting to the truth, to what actually happened, and I think the Vikings are, too. So I'm hopeful that things will turn out the right way. And if they don't, then we'll go from there."


After deciding to go public with his allegations against Priefer, Kluwe hired Clayton Halunen, an employment-law attorney based out of Minneapolis. Halunen believes their case could be seminal in creating a precedent to deter workplace harassment in pro sports.

"I think it's time, and I think people are really open to this idea of changing this machismo that's always been part of professional sports," says Halunen. "I think those days might be over."

Based on talks with investigators so far, Halunen and Kluwe both say they're optimistic that investigators will side with them. But if they do lose this round, they plan to fight the next with civil action.

"At the end of the day, if they do come back and say this didn't happen, then it's a cover-up," says Halunen. "We will sue them, and we will hold them accountable."

Even in the midst of his battle with the Vikings, Kluwe expresses hope for the future of the issue so dear to his heart. The mere fact that the team hired outside investigators, he says, is evidence of the rapid cultural evolution.

"I think ten years ago, no one would even be talking about this," he says. "It would just be swept under the rug and business as usual."

Kluwe acknowledges that if the Vikings do side with Priefer, it could be a setback for the gay-rights agenda he's been pushing for years now. But one way or another, he says, it won't be the end.

"That's a fight I'm willing to wage," he says. "That's not something that I'm just going to be like, 'Oh, well, they found no wrongdoing. I guess we just go on with our lives.' That's not the kind of person I am."

He laughs. "If we're in this, we're in it for the long haul."


Heading into the draft this weekend, Michael Sam's sexual orientation isn't the only factor that could potentially hurt his draft stock. At six-foot-two and 260 pounds, he's considered small for an NFL defenseman. And though he performed well at Pro Day, he had a bad showing at the combine. By most accounts, he's not a top draft pick.

But Sam still has a good shot at being drafted in the later rounds this weekend, says Russell Lande, a former NFL scout who watched Sam perform at Pro Day. "I'd be surprised if he's not. He's not a lead prospect, but he's a really productive player."

The questions most scouts will be asking about Sam will likely have nothing to do with him being gay, predicts Lande. They will be more interested in Sam's character, how he'll respond to the demands of his coaches and teammates, and his ability to play through the pain that comes with being a professional football player.

"I don't think his sexuality is even going to come up for most teams," says Lande. "They'll all know it because he came out, but I think they're going to say, 'It is what it is.'"

Now that athletes like Sam and Collins have come out, many are left to wonder what will happen next. Dan Woog, whose research has chronicled the history of gays in professional sports, believes it's only a matter of time before more athletes begin to follow their lead. The ultimate goal, he says, is for an out athlete to be so commonplace that it's no longer news.

"Everybody remembers Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player," says Woog. "A decent number of people remember Larry Doby, the second black baseball player. But nobody remembers the third."

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7 comments
messbajw
messbajw

@RiverfrontTimes only matters how he performs on the field; his sexual preference doesn't matter & shouldn't have to be publicly known

Jeff Powell
Jeff Powell

I look forward to the day he is called an athlete. Does he have a gay meal or gay cook or gay? Must we put labels on everyone?

ut_4_me
ut_4_me topcommenter

Is "Rise of the Gay Athlete" supposed to be a pun????


 
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