Vikings respond to Kluwe allegations

ByBen Goessling ESPN logo
Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Minnesota Vikings have suspended special teams coordinator Mike Priefer for three games after an independent investigation of the organization into claims by former punter Chris Kluwe showed that Priefer made a homophobic remark during the 2012 season, the team announced Friday night.

Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and president Mark Wilf released a statement Friday, saying in part: "In this instance, Coach Priefer fell short of what is expected. Accordingly, we have decided to suspend Coach Priefer without pay for the first three games of the 2014 regular season. In addition, he will be required to satisfactorily complete specialized workplace training that will include an emphasis on the managing of diversity and sexual orientation.

"If Coach Priefer completes this training and conducts himself in accordance with our workplace policies, we will consider reducing the length of his suspension by one game.

"We will continue to hold all team members accountable and take the outlined critical steps to further educate everyone within our organization both individually and collectively. We will accept nothing less than creating a franchise that Minnesotans and Vikings fans everywhere can be proud of on and off the field."

The Vikings also will donate $100,000 to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights groups.

Priefer apologized in the statement.

"I owe an apology to many people -- the Wilf family, the Minnesota Vikings organization and fans, my family, the LGBT community, Chris Kluwe and anyone else that I offended with my insensitive remark," he said. "I regret what has occurred and what I said. I am extremely sorry but I will learn from this situation and will work on educating others to create more tolerance and respect."

In a Deadspin article in January, Kluwe alleged that Priefer made anti-gay slurs and taunts and claimed he was released by the Vikings because of his gay rights advocacy.

Chris Madel, a former Justice Department attorney, and Eric Magnuson, a former chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, from the Minneapolis-based law firm Robins, Kaplan, Ciresi and Miller, recently presented their report into the allegations to the Vikings after interviewing 31 people and examining 121 gigabytes of data.

According to a 29-page summary of the report, Priefer denied the claims in a statement after the accusations were publicized, and again denied making homophobic remarks in his first meeting with investigators on Jan. 6. However, after long-snapper Cullen Loeffler told investigators on April 23 that he did hear Priefer make a comment about "putting all the gays on an island and nuking it," the coach said he "was not going to disagree" with Loeffler's statement about the comment. Loeffler told investigators, though, that Priefer was joking at the time, and that both he and Kluwe laughed off the remark.

The summary of the report, however, did not find evidence to support Kluwe's claim he was cut for reasons other than his on-field performance. Investigators talked to former All-Pro punter Craig Hentrich, who gave Kluwe a "C" for his 2012 performance, and former Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, who said he "in all likelihood" would have released Kluwe after that season. According to the report, Priefer gave Kluwe the highest grade for his 2012 performance of any of the Vikings' season-ending reviews.

General manager Rick Spielman told investigators that the Vikings' talent evaluators "pretty unanimously" agreed Kluwe should be released, citing his struggles with directional punting. The Vikings took punter Jeff Locke in the fifth round of the 2013 draft and cut Kluwe after their rookie camp.

The NFL commended the investigation.

"We support our teams enforcing their workplace policies and commend the Wilfs for doing a thorough investigation and taking appropriate steps in response to the findings," spokesman Greg Aiello said.

In an email obtained by ESPN from a source close to the investigation, Kluwe's attorney, Clayton Halunen, told Madel on July 8 he did not think the independent report -- which includes a 150-page summary, footnotes and interview transcripts among other evidence -- should be made public, instead arguing for an executive summary of the findings.

However, Halunen said the executive summary he was referring to in the email is the same as the 150-page document he is now trying to get in court, adding that he and Madel were only discussing the omission of report footnotes and interview transcripts that would bring sensitive personal information to light.

The 29-page summary of the investigation released Friday night was not acceptable to Halunen or Kluwe, the attorney said.

Halunen said the punter still plans to file suit against the team in Minnesota state court next week and will seek damages in the neighborhood of $10 million.

Halunen said he and Kluwe had asked for a four-to-eight game suspension for Priefer, and added Kluwe had asked for the Vikings to donate $1 million to charities that support LGBT-friendly causes. The team instead will donate $100,000.

Portions of the report painted Kluwe in a poor picture, like his jokes about the Jerry Sandusky scandal and an incident where he dropped his pants in front of 20-25 businesspeople who were touring the locker room.

Kluwe posted multiple tweets in response Friday night, including:

And yeah, if the Vikings want to play dirty, we can talk about ALL sorts of stuff.

- Chris Kluwe (@ChrisWarcraft) July 19, 2014Halunen admitted parts of the report "are not flattering to my client." Despite that, he said, he wants the full report to be available to the public.

"They will fight over it," Halunen said. "I know it. If they are required to give it to me, they'll try to do it under a protective order, but I'm going to fight to keep it public."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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