Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton (D) implied on Thursday that outspoken LGBT ally and Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe lost his job for reasons other than football or business decisions. But there’s substantial reason to doubt that’s what happened, and it’s not clear that such statements are helpful to making football a more inclusive space for LGBT players.
Though Governor Dayton admitted that he wasn’t well-positioned to evaluate the decision to let Kluwe go as a football business decision, he speculated to the Associated Press that the cut may have been political:
“Yeah, I don’t feel good about it,” Dayton told the Associated Press when asked about Kluwe’s release on Monday. “I’m not in a position to evaluate the relative punting abilities, but it seems to me the general manager said, right after the draft, they were going to have competition. Well, they bring the one guy in, he kicks for a weekend and that’s competition?”
Dayton then criticized the Vikings’ management for what he perceived as blatant dishonesty. “I just think sports officials ought to be honest about what the heck is going on,” he said, “same way I think public officials should be honest about what’s going on, so that bothers me probably as much, if not more, than the actual decision.”
Contra Dayton, there’s good reason to believe Kluwe’s release was about business. Cyd Ziegler at OutSports crunched the numbers, and found that, given the Vikings’ draft choices, it simply didn’t make sense to hold on to Kluwe:
At this point in the season, the NFL is a numbers game. There’s a salary cap that each team has to fit under, and every general manager and coach has to figure out how to maximize every dollar. When the Minnesota Vikings drafted UCLA punter Jeff Locke, they played a numbers game. They’ll get Locke this season for a savings of almost $1 million under Kluwe’s projected salary.
Absent evidence that Kluwe (or the similarly outspoken former Baltimore Raven Brendan Ayanbadejo) were let go as a consequence of their advocacy, these numbers suggest that a more straightforward explanation for the Vikings’ decision.
Accusing the Vikings of bad faith also isn’t necessarily helpful. Part of what made Kluwe and Ayanbadejo so influential was their work in fostering a climate of acceptance inside the NFL, one that could help pave the way for the league’s first out player. Insinuating that they lost their jobs over these efforts could potentially have a chilling effect on other players who might want to support their gay teammates or even come out themselves.
Also on Thursday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said that an out player would be welcomed by other players. “ “I don’t think it will just be tolerated, I think it will be accepted,” the commissioner said. “I know their teammates and teams, and I think the fans will all respond the right way.”