Conflict Sidelined: Making the Right Play

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Dear friend,

Tuesday was a welcome end to a conflict that moved me from pride, to dismay and ultimately hope for the future. If you don’t follow the gay media or pro football, you might have missed what was also exciting news for the Foundation.

KluweIn 2012, as Minnesota voters were about to cast their ballots on whether to ban same-sex marriage, a new ally emerged to defend our dignity and our right to share our lives with whom we choose. That ally was Chris Kluwe, then the punter for the Minnesota Vikings, my long-beloved hometown NFL team.

Chris was among many fair-minded Minnesotans who stood up to the bullying at the ballot box in an historic victory. As a nearly 40-year Vikings fan, I couldn’t have been more proud.

About a year later, Kluwe was cut from the team. Why he believed that happened was astonishing, and heartbreaking.

In a viral online essay, he alleged that the team’s coaches and management showed him the door over his outspoken support of LGBT rights. Though the team denied it, the controversy led to a blue-ribbon investigation’s 150-page report, which ultimately confirmed at least one coach’s extremely chilling anti-gay sentiment.

Team officials apologized, took disciplinary action, and changed policies, but much of the report was withheld and even Kluwe himself was not spared embarrassment.

This fan, for one, felt wounded.

Watching and rooting for the Vikings ties me to lost times, lost loved ones. Vikings games marked Christmases fondly recalled and hopeful autumns. They symbolized my belief that although I was different, I was still part of the same things that united my family and community. Had I been wrong?

kluwe2And then Tuesday happened. After mediation, the team and their former punter put their differences aside in a way that will help move us all forward — not just the team and its fans, but all of us who play or love sports, or simply feel that good sportsmanship applies equally to all. And moreover, this settlement will advance the Foundation’s work to erase hate.

By settling their pending lawsuit, the Vikings and Kluwe unlocked funding, public support, and a platform for new programs, for five LGBT community organizations working to educate our broader communities.

The team will reform its workplace culture, they further agreed, and launch a new initiative this spring to tackle homophobia in sports.

Their support will be a truly meaningful boost for new hate crime prevention programs we plan to unveil in October — work we believe will help the federal law bearing Matt’s name to reach its full potential to protect people from hate crimes, not merely punish those who commit them.

We thank the Vikings and Chris Kluwe for turning what could have been a prolonged and divisive dispute into a shared commitment to move our community forward.

And I thank them for giving me back a sense of pride, and my belief that no matter what has come before, each of us can still choose to change our world for the better.

Best Wishes,
Jason Marsden
MSF Executive Director

Matthew Shepard FoundationConflict Sidelined: Making the Right Play