EAGAN, Minn.-Reconciliation can be a fool's errand in the cutthroat NFL, where recyclable players are discarded like junk mail and cultural scandals leave everyone desperate for a bath. But somehow, something constructive has emerged from one of the most sordid episodes in Minnesota Vikings history.
Chris Kluwe and the Vikings are reuniting Thursday, June 21, at the TCO Performance Center in Eagan, not to re-open settlement talks from their ugly 2014 divorce but to champion a progressive agenda much bigger than a spurned punter and a chastened special-teams coordinator.
"This isn't a Chris Kluwe thing, this is an NFL team holding this first type of summit and driving change," Kluwe said Tuesday.
The team is hosting a daylong summit and fundraiser at their new facility to promote equality and inclusion for LGBTQ athletes who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning of their sexual orientation. The event coincides with Gay Pride festivities in Minneapolis over the weekend.
It starts by changing alpha-male perceptions and regressive attitudes that feed discrimination. Convening LGBTQ athletes, coaches, activists and corporate officers to give testimonials and share best practices at an NFL team headquarters is symbolic and somewhat ironic considering it is in Minnesota.
Speakers include Greg Louganis, Olympic diver and LGBTQ advocate; triathlete Chris Mosier, the first known out transgender athlete to qualify for a U.S. national team; Robert Gulliver, the NFL's chief human resources officer; Nevin Caple, co-founder of LGBT SportSafe; Esera Tuaolo, former Vikings defensive tackle and musician who came out after his career ended; and Stephanie White, women's basketball coach at Vanderbilt.
"It's really important that we in society take the time to understand different angles of thought and become more open to address issues that are easily uncomfortable, and who some think are not appropriate," said Vikings chief operating officer Kevin Warren.
"Hopefully this open forum will help young athletes figure out what really is important, why it is important and identify support systems to talk about what they're dealing with and find solutions," he said.
The Vikings deserve credit for pulling together a sweeping sociological event four years in the making, but let's not forget the team was shamed into action after Kluwe vindictively aired some very dirty laundry when the Vikings determined he was a substandard punter and cut him after the 2013 season.
In a scathing first-person article published on the website Deadspin.com in January 2014, Kluwe accused the Vikings of releasing him because of his outspoken views on same-sex marriage. He also said special teams coordinator Mike Priefer made homophobic slurs during special-teams meetings.
Kluwe threatened to sue the Vikings and Priefer for $10 million. A six-month investigation by the team, conducted by independent area attorneys, concluded Kluwe was let go strictly for football reasons, but Priefer was suspended for the first three games of the 2014 season. The coach acknowledged he made one inappropriate comment in a position meeting, and his punishment was later reduced to two games after he underwent sensitivity training.
Kluwe and the Vikings reached a settlement for which the team agreed to set up sensitivity training for all employees, adopt a no-tolerance policy on discrimination, donate to LGBTQ groups and plan a symposium to address LGBTQ issues.
So here we are, hatchet buried.
"We wanted to take something that ended negatively to work on something positive to help other organizations and people understand the concerns of the LBGTQ community and what can be done about it," said Kluwe. "Here's a resource to do that where it's not just people showing up and checking off boxes."
The video-recorded summit is being held in the 175-seat auditorium where players sit while Vikings coach Mike Zimmer reviews game plans designed by his assistant coaches, including Priefer. Warren said Priefer was not invited to the summit, and that is probably best. Powerful as his inclusion might have been, it also could prove divisive.
Kluwe, meanwhile, is a stay-at-home dad in Huntington Beach, Calif., caring for his 7- and 9-year-old daughters. He is writing a science-fiction book. He also appeared in a 2016 episode of "TableTop," a YouTube series in which celebrities compete in board and hobby games.
He has never heard from Priefer.
"An apology from him would have treated the symptom, but how do you make sure other coaches don't do the same thing?" Kluwe said.
By moving forward.