I am a huge Vikings fan. I’m such a fan that it is critical information in the bio of this blog. If you’ve ever spoken with me for more than ten minutes, I’ve probably been able to drop in a reference about them at least once. Since I’m not from Minnesota, I’ve gotten my explanation of why I’m a Vikings fan down to a clean 3 minutes after years of explaining to confused folks why someone from Connecticut is a diehard fan of a Midwest team (one without a Super Bowl win to their name, no less).
So, being a fan, and being a user of the internet, I follow the Vikings on multiple social media platforms. And yes, they post the same content across all those platforms, but I need to follow them everywhere so I never miss a thing! On June 22nd, 2020, the Vikings Twitter account tweeted the following:
A tweet so subtle, you might miss it. Especially if you’re not sure what to look for. I can barely see the rainbow colors on the “Skol Pride” banner, but the rainbow heart emojis (they even went with the Philly Pride flag colors!) and the pride hashtag made things a bit clearer. A bit. No link to a post, no other explanation for the tweet. If you wanted, you could easily just say “Cool, skol pride!” as in, you’re proud of being part of the Vikings fan base.
To me, a queer football fan (a rare and possibly dying breed, I think, but that may be a separate post), this tweet has been racing around my mind for the past two days, and produced many questions.
Besides for the tweet, the icon changes, and more recently a shirt for sale on their website, there is no mention of ANYTHING about Pride Month, or even explicitly what the Vikings are taking pride in. Are the Vikings doing the absolute bare minimum to show their support for the LGBTQ community? Maybe it’s even generous to call this the bare minimum. Are they just expressing pride in their team, coincidentally in the last week of Pride Month? Personally, these tiny, tiny changes to their social media accounts feel like an organization that wants to show support (or at least make some Gay Dollars off a t-shirt) but is afraid of the homophobic backlash they may face.
I remember quite clearly in 2013 when the Vikings punter Chris Kluwe was fired for advocating for same-sex marriage. I remember both the article Kluwe wrote that got him into trouble with the then coaches of the team, and I remember the article (linked above) he wrote describing the whole thing. I still have his jersey hanging in my closet (bought after he was fired, maybe a foolish move since it was money to the Vikings at the time, but it still felt like support I could give Kluwe (come on, who EVER buys punters jerseys?)).
Even if one wants to argue that Kluwe was not fired due to his comments, he clearly states the treatment he received from then coach Leslie Frazier and then special teams coach Mike Priefer was markedly different and homophobic.
I also vividly remember in June of 2018, in a very under the radar fashion similar to the tweet from two days ago, the Vikings tweeted about an LGBTQ summit they were holding. I rubbed my eyes to make sure I had seen correctly. An NFL team, and MY team, hosting a summit about LGBTQ athletes? Representatives from 13 other NFL teams and other leagues attended, and queer athletes from multiple sports (Chris Mosier, Joanna Lohman, and Greg Louganis to name a few) spoke, and oh yeah – Chris Kluwe was there as well. It was the first LGBTQ summit (and only? I haven’t heard of another one since) hosted by an NFL team.
What has come of that summit? I’m not quite sure. Maybe the people there learned something. Maybe they took information and ideas back to their organizations and were shut down. Maybe it was just to pick up some good PR. To my knowledge, the culture surrounding the NFL and most other men’s sports leagues remains one where homophobia is not addressed.
What I want to believe, especially as a stubbornly loyal fan, is that the Vikings organization is one that wants to do the right thing. I’ve seen that in these recent weeks after George Floyd’s murder, just blocks away from the Vikings home field. Many of the Vikings players are speaking up about racial issues across the country and within the NFL, and are openly discussing what the team can do internally as an organization and externally for the people of Minneapolis.
So maybe, the Vikings are trying to show their support of the LGBTQ community. With the hateful comments I’ve seen on their subtle posts across social media accounts, you would think the team said it’s donating all the revenue of the 2020-2021 season to LGBTQ organizations (can you imagine!?). The homophobia is real within the sports world – just ask all the closeted male athletes.
I generally don’t expect much from the NFL, and I am wary of anything and everything that comes out of Roger Goodell’s mouth. The league itself is a juggernaut that will not stop in its quest to make gross amounts of money no matter what (COVID-19 may have stopped the NBA, but the NFL stops for no pandemic). Every October when they participate in Breast Cancer Awareness month, I think of all the domestic violence cases that crop up year after year from NFL athletes. I think of the protests of taking a knee during the national anthem, and how the pressure from the military (with the ridiculous dollars the military pays the NFL) to reprimand those athletes must of been IMMENSE. All this to say, I’m not looking to the NFL as my number one source of genuine activism.
While I don’t hold my breath for teams or players to speak up on important issues in our culture, I do think they should if they’re able to. They have a large platform and could use it for good. So while I think I see glimpses of the Vikings organization actually doing some good, I wonder why they are holding back. A rainbow tee shirt with the word “pride” on it does not an ally make. Yet, they are the only NFL team who has even changed their icon and header images on social media. They are the only team who has hosted an LGBTQ summit.
And yet, you can’t just dip your toe in the water of being an ally and see how it feels. You either have to commit to it, or get out of the pool. If the Vikings want to make a splash and genuinely do the right thing, they have to do more than change their icon in the last week of Pride Month. While their comments sections are filled with homophobia, there are also those who welcome a drop of support like an oasis in a desert of deafening silence. Progressive sports fans are out there (haha, out there), and would embrace concrete action from their favorite billion dollar sports team. Until the Vikings step it up, I won’t be buying their “Pride” shirt, but I will still keep rooting for them on and off the field.