The Minnesota Vikings will suspend special teams coordinator Mike Priefer without pay for three games this season and donate $100,000 to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights groups in response to former punter Chris Kluwe’s allegations of anti-gay slurs and taunts made by Priefer.
The Vikings announced the punishment as part of a summary of findings by outside lawyers. The attorneys were hired in January to investigate Kluwe’s accusations, which included a claim he was released because of his advocacy for marriage equality and his campaign for LGBT rights.
The Vikings said Priefer’s ban could be reduced to two games, provided if he attends sensitivity training. Such education has been required for all Vikings employees, coaches and players on an annual basis for the past several years, the team said, and the improvements for the programs will be considered.
Chris Madel, a former Justice Department attorney, and Eric Magnuson, a former chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, recently presented their report to the Vikings after interviewing 31 people and examining 121 gigabytes of data.
Priefer was questioned three times. According to a 29-page analysis of the investigation by employment law consultants Littler Mendelson and Donald Prophete, commissioned by the Vikings and released, Priefer initially denied making a remark Kluwe alleged about “putting all the gays on an island and nuking it” but later acknowledged he might have.
Long snapper Cullen Loeffler told the investigators he heard the same comment Kluwe did, but that he assumed Priefer was joking.
Also in the analysis of the investigation:
• Vikings officials were nearly unanimous in deciding Kluwe’s 2012 season was substandard, and the report said Priefer actually gave Kluwe a higher grade than any of the front-office evaluators. The Vikings have maintained the move to cut Kluwe was strictly football-based after they drafted Jeff Locke in the fifth round and Kluwe was due to make $1.45 million in the 2013 season at age 31.
• The investigators asked former Chicago general manager Jerry Angelo and former NFL punter Craig Hentrich to analyze Kluwe’s performance as well, and Hentrich gave Kluwe a “C” grade overall.
• The report also cited anecdotes from several interviewees about the penchant for off-color behavior by Kluwe, whose Internet and Twitter criticisms of various institutions and individuals have often contained obscene language. According to the report, Kluwe poked fun at Tom Kanavy, the strength and conditioning coach at the time, in a vulgar manner that made light of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal at Penn State, where Kanavy attended and later worked.
In a statement from the team, Priefer apologized to owners Mark Wilf and Zygi Wilf, the organization, the fans, his family, the LGBT community, Kluwe and “anyone else that I offended with my insensitive remark.”
Added Priefer, who was hired by the Vikings in 2011: “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.”
Kluwe, however, said he will still sue the team for discrimination against his gay-rights activism and agnostic beliefs, as well as defamation and wrongful interference of his contract. His attorney, Clayton Halunen, said the complaint will be filed in Hennepin County District Court this week, seeking $10 million in damages. They announced earlier this week their impending lawsuit and did not reach a settlement agreement with the team.
“Here we have this company, this Minnesota company who’s getting $400 million out of taxpayers’ funds to build the stadium, and yet they are violating state law by engaging in discriminatory conduct, and that is unacceptable,” Halunen said.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said: “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.”
The Wilf brothers, in a joint statement provided by the team, said Madel and Magnuson “were in full control of the investigation at all times.” They said they’re pleased Mendelson and Prophete “concluded that there was no wrongdoing” by the Vikings in releasing Kluwe.
“We are very disappointed with some of the findings contained within the report,” the Wilfs said. “As we have said in the past, we consistently strive to create – and believe we have – a supportive, respectful and accepting environment for our players, coaches and staff, and we strongly disassociate the club from the statement that Coach Priefer made. Coach Priefer is a good man, and we know that he deeply regrets the comment. We do not believe that this error in judgment should define him.”