The Minnesota Vikings brass, after using a fifth round pick on a punter, Jeff Locke of the University of California, Berkely in the April NFL Draft, on Monday cut longtime punter Chris Kluwe. The opinion writers, not just in the sports realm but beyond, are in overdrive, speculating that team management deciding to draft Locke and subsequently cut Kluwe loose is not simply because of anyone’s ability to boot the ball on the football field, but because of Kluwe’s outspoken behavior off the field.
Most people who feel qualified to write or speak on the subject seem to think that this goes beyond Kluwe’s ability to punt a football. On one hand, maybe that’s because it makes for a far more interesting and compelling opinion to contend that Kluwe’s outspoken nature and his high-profile pro-gay marriage stance led him to this place, being waived by from the Vikings. But on the other hand...
Kluwe used to be one of the longest punters in the game. Apparently, he’s not anymore. We’re supposed to believe now that 31 is somehow an ancient age for a punter. And yet, his net average last season was a career high – even though it warrants noting that his 2012-13 milestone still only placed him in the middle of the pack among NFL punters. In recent years, Kluwe has been under pressure to “directional punt” more, instead of just kicking the tar out of the ball, and his overall stats have likely taken a hit.
The likely truth here is that if Kluwe was a desirable punter off the field by NFL team standards – in other words, completely mute and anonymous, apparently – the Vikings wouldn’t have drafted a punter and Kluwe’s tenure with the team wouldn’t be over. But Kluwe is an author, he’s smart, articulate and he’s not afraid to take to talk shows or social media to speak out against homophobia and other topics. He took one particular issue onto the field last season, wearing a patch that dared to promote Raiders’ legendary punter Ray Guy for induction into the NFL Hall of Fame. In return, the Vikings special teams coach said Kluwe should concentrate on punting. As if promoting the best NFL punter in history for inclusion in the hall of fame is a hot-button issue.
Who are the Vikings brass trying to appease by drafting a punter in the fifth round and dumping Kluwe? Have longtime corporate sponsors threatened to pull their money from the biggest marketing bonanza on the planet that is NFL football? Have longtime season ticket holders threatened to not renew their season packages, meaning the next fans on the season ticket waiting list with sufficient disposable income can eagerly take the seats at the Metrodome and, soon, the new, billion dollar stadium? No, and no.
Page 2 of 2 - Vikings fans are Vikings fans. Sponsors are sponsors. Some are more rabid and more dedicated than others, but it’s highly doubtful that a free-spirited, outspoken punter is going to spur anyone to yank their money. NFL team rosters are peppered with players with questionable pasts and lengthy rap sheets, and let’s not pretend otherwise. There are steroid freaks, repeat DWI offenders, wife/girlfriend abusers, drug users…maybe even rapists and murderers. Kluwe? He’s an angel by comparison, and yet he is now looking for employment as an NFL punter.
This roster move reeks of something foul within the walls of Winter Park in Eden Prairie. It just does. Wouldn’t it be something if some season ticket holders or corporate sponsors had the guts to yank their money because of it?