Last week, ESPN published an article commending Aaron Rogers for his off-field efforts to leverage his football-derived fame to champion the cause of a mission-driven non-profit, Raise Hope for Congo. Rogers was quoted as saying, "I understand the way I'm viewed in society. I understand the opportunities I've been given through my platform. I think it's important that you use the gifts you've been given and the opportunities for influence to make a difference."
A day later, Deadspin published a story by former Minnesota Viking's punter, Chris Kluwe, titled "I Was an NFL Player Until I Was Fired by Two Cowards and a Bigot." Kluwe's article details the off-the-field events he perceived as being attributable, either directly or indirectly, to his release by the Vikings. While admitting that his tendency to be outspoken on social issues - in this case, voicing his support of same-sex marriage rights in Minnesota - may not have been the sole reason he was released by the Vikings, Kluwe wanted to shed light on homophobic statements made by Vikings special teams coach Mike Preifer, and on what Kluwe believed to be the equivalent of tacit consent or support therefor by (former) Head Coach Leslie Frazier and General Manager Rick Spielman.
According to Kluwe, Preifer opened a special teams meeting with an off-the-cuff remark that "we should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and nuke it until it glows."
Priefer has issued a statement refuting the veracity of Kluwe's claim, stating, "I want to be clear that I do not tolerate discrimination of any type and am respectful of all individuals. I personally have gay family members who I love and support just as I do any family member. ...The comments today have not only attacked my character and insulted my professionalism, but they have also impacted my family. While my career focus is to be a great football coach, my number one priority has always been to be a protective husband and father to my wife and children..."
Kluwe previously gained national attention-and may be remembered locally - for a letter he wrote to Maryland delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr. (also published in Deadspin) for, in Kluwe's words, "chastising him for trampling the free-speech rights of (former) Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo.
In his most recent article, Kluwe recalls a conversation with (then) Vikings Coach Frazier in which Kluwe reminds Frazier of two of his (Frazier's) focal coaching points, to "be good men" and "do the right thing." According to Kluwe, Frazier responded by saying, "a wise coach once told me, there are two things you don't talk about in the NFL, politics and religion."
Kluwe, who is nothing if not honest, made a clear articulation of his primary reason for writing, stating, "if there is 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."
Kluwe acknowledges that his career in the NFL is over; acknowledging that as a veteran and a player on the periphery, being outspoken - particularly in the face of urgings by his Head Coach and General Manager to stop speaking-out on social issues - made him more than marginalized, it made him untouchable.
The different perceptions and outcomes of Rogers and Kluwe demonstrate the differences relative to the "platforms" of superstars versus players on the periphery.
But, more-so, and sadly-so, they personify the problem of selective hearing or selective sympathies as they relate to the extents to which folks seem to be willing to stand alongside of and/or to support superstar athletes who speak-out against social injustices; doing so (only) to the extent to which the social stances the athletes take or support are fashionable; but seemingly not when they are as fashionable as "the gays."
Pfiefer has an option if he wants to take his insistence that he's not a homophobe to the mat.
He could file a civil suit against Kluwe and Deadspin for defamation - asserting Kluwe's column was libelous and "a civil wrong that harmed his reputation; decreases respect, regard, or confidence; or induces disparaging, hostile, or disagreeable opinions or feelings against" him. Priefer, if he did not utter such hate-filled speech in front of a room full of NFL athletes - and if he insists Kluwe is lying - should file for defamation of his character. My guess is that he won't; because he did. There was a room full of men. Test their character, their veracity for the truth, their want to "be good men" and to "do the right thing."