Michael Sam, Mike Priefer and the Vikings’ Little Image Problem
By Dan Zinski
Jan 3, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Missouri Tigers defensive lineman Michael Sam (52) runs on the field before the game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at the 2014 Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium. Missouri beat Oklahoma State 41-31. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
The jokes were a little too obvious. But still a little bit painful.
News broke late Sunday afternoon of former Missouri defensive lineman and current NFL draft prospect Michael Sam’s decision to come out as a gay man. Immediately the jabs started appearing on Twitter, the great social media instant pop culture temperature gauge.
“Well, I know the Vikings won’t be drafting Michael Sam,” tweeted @dbaby_23.
“I’m going to go out on a limb and say Michael Sam will not be drafted by the Vikings,” tweeted @ChrisJamesMMA.
“100000 dollars says the vikings dont draft michael sam,” tweeted @sports_scene.
“I bet Michael Sam would make a great special teams player for the vikings!” tweeted @MattesonTrevor.
“well you know the Vikings aren’t gonna draft Michael Sam,” tweeted @Miyag_e.
And on and on in that vein.
Endless jokes about how the Vikings will never draft Michael Sam because they have an openly homophobic coach on their staff.
Completely unfair jokes, because Mike Priefer, even if he thinks the things Chris Kluwe says he thinks, doesn’t speak for the team. He only speaks for himself.
But still, it’s out there. It’s in people’s minds. The Vikings are guilty of homophobia, if only by association.
A willing association with a man whose public image is, justly or unjustly, that of a bigot.
The Vikings made this bed when they elected to stand behind Priefer. Once all the facts have been gathered – assuming the Vikings really want to know the facts – maybe their stance will change. Maybe Mike Priefer will be fired. Maybe Chris Kluwe will be vindicated.
It’s pretty clear that, in the court of public opinion, the Vikings are already losers. A large part of the public at large thinks of the Vikings as “that team that is against gays.”
This is a problem for the Vikings. Fairly or unfairly, they are right now on the wrong side of history.
Michael Sam is being hailed as a hero by much of the media. You can agree or disagree with this characterization, but the fact remains, the young man is widely perceived as courageous and a social pioneer.
And the Vikings are widely perceived as the one organization that would never embrace him, because that Priefer guy said that stuff about putting them all on an island and nuking them till they glow.
Of course there are other teams with the same internal issues. There are other teams with players, coaches and front office people whose opinions put them on the wrong side of history. The difference is, those people haven’t been accused of anything in public. They haven’t run afoul of Chris Kluwe.
Whatever you think of Priefer, whatever you think of Kluwe – whatever side you fall on in the great social debate – if you’re a Viking fan, you have to be a little bit sad that it’s come to this.
It’s no fun being the laughingstock. It’s bad enough when they’re joking about you because you can’t win the Super Bowl. When it’s because your team is perceived as being backward and bigoted?
It’s a great lesson in why teams need to pay closer attention to the things their coaches and players say, even in the “sacred” locker room. Because what used to stay in the locker room no longer stays in the locker room. That space is no longer sacred, those words are no longer an internal matter.
It’s all out in the light now. Had Kluwe not been the man to drag it into the light, someone else would have. That’s the point. Hating Kluwe is silly. Eventually, someone else would have been Kluwe. Someone else would have been Priefer.
It happens all the time, and sooner or later, someone was going to blab.
It happened to be Kluwe, it happened to be the Vikings.
Maybe we were better off not knowing all this stuff. Maybe we would be better off just caring about the games.
But that doesn’t matter now. This is reality. This is the new normal. This is the way history has gone.
And the Vikings, like it or not, are on the wrong side of that history. The jokes won’t be disappearing any time soon. And it just isn’t funny.
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