Tony Dungy’s comments – and later, his clarification of those comments – as to why he wouldn’t have drafted Michael Sam probably won’t win an award for political correctness.
In fact, it’s safe to say they did more harm than good.
“I think it’s just disappointing,” former NFL punter and gay-rights activist Chris Kluwe said on The MoJo Show. “Tony Dungy is a guy who’s always been a leader. He’s a guy a lot of people look up to. The fact that he is willing to advocate for someone like Michael Vick, for example, to get signed with a team – and Michael Vick came with a lot of distraction potential – and then he won’t turn around and do the same thing for Michael Sam, I think, really is not the way a leader is supposed to act.”
Kluwe, 32, is an outspoken advocate for same-sex marriage – which he believes contributed to his release by the Minnesota Vikings in 2012. Kluwe alleged that there was rampant homophobic behavior within the organization, which prompted a six-month independent investigation of the Vikings. The findings of that investigation were summarized in a 29-page report that was released last Friday.
Kluwe criticized the findings, saying that they provided an inaccurate portrayal of special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, who, according to Kluwe, was the source of numerous homophobic comments.
“The interesting thing is in the 29-page summary that the Vikings released, they tried to do something very similar to what Tony Dungy actually just said,” Kluwe explained. “They said in that summary that Chris Kluwe was released due to concerns about his activism but not due to the nature of that activism. The thing is, the whole point of activism is to bring attention to something. You can’t really say that you’re releasing him because of his activism but not because of the content of that activism. That just doesn’t make sense.”
The Vikings also claimed that Kluwe’s release was performance-based.
“They tried to do both,” Kluwe said. “They said it was based on the distraction caused by his activism but not the content, and also his declining performance, which I feel we can disprove simply by having me go out on a football field with an expert witness – someone who’s familiar with punting in the NFL and understands what it takes – and then showing that I still have the physical capabilities to punt in the NFL.”
In 2012, Kluwe averaged 45 yards per punt – right in line with the league average.
Interestingly enough, the Vikings did announce that Priefer will be suspended without pay for the first three games of the 2014 season, as Priefer admitted he made a homophobic remark in 2012.
It turns out that Kluwe did, too. According to Vikings conditioning coach and Penn State alumnus Tom Kanavy – who was interviewed as part of the investigation – Kluwe tore a hole in the back of his shorts and said he was one of Jerry Sandusky’s victims.
“I do apologize for it,” Kluwe said. “It was a joke that I thought would be about the content of Penn State itself, not the victims, but apparently it wasn’t taken that way, and I do apologize for that. My relationship with Tom Kanavy was one where we could joke around with each other. We did tell off-color jokes to each other. He would make fun of my long hair and make comments about that. I felt that was fine. He was not my direct supervisor.”
“Now, Mike Priefer was my direct supervisor,” Kluwe continued. “We had a relationship where – as I detailed in the Deadspin letter – I felt that some of the times the stuff he said was joking, and then some of the times the stuff he said was very much not joking. And the stuff he said where he wasn’t joking was the problem.”
Getting back to Dungy’s comments, is Priefer proof that Michael Sam will encounter resistance in the NFL?
“Well, it really all boils down to your leadership; it boils down to who’s in charge,” Kluwe said. “If whoever is in charge states that any sort of homophobic language or behavior is unacceptable, guys get the message – especially if you back that up with action. You look at what Branch Rickey did with Jackie Robinson. He told guys, ‘Hey, if you have a problem with this, we’ll trade you. Get out of here. We don’t need you around here.’ And I think that’s very much the same case with Michael Sam. Those in a leadership position – like the head coach, like the GM, like the team owner – if they make it perfectly clear that discriminating against Michael Sam because of his sexuality is unacceptable, then it won’t happen.”