The Vikings on Friday suspended special teams coordinator Mike Priefer for three games following a six-month investigation into accusations made by former punter Chris Kluwe that Priefer made anti-gay remarks in a team setting during the 2012 season.
Priefer, who denied the remarks earlier this year, apologized Friday in a statement. He must also attend sensitivity training, and if he does, his suspension could be reduced to two games.
“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,” Priefer said in the statement. “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 29-page document summarizing the findings of the Vikings’ independent investigation — which was led by former U.S. Department of Justice attorney Chris Madel and former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson — the national law firm Littler Mendelson, hired by the Vikings to assess the report, concluded that Priefer made an anti-gay comment to players, although there was no record of his having made any other such comments.
The showdown between Kluwe and the Vikings is not over, however. Kluwe told the Star Tribune on Friday that because the Vikings did not release the investigation’s full report, he plans to file a discrimination lawsuit against the Vikings early next week seeking damages in excess of $10 million. He echoed his intention on Twitter as well, writing that “next week is open season.”
The investigation also provided details on Kluwe himself being insensitive in team settings. The report notes Kluwe making light of the Penn State football sex-abuse scandal, which Kluwe confirmed Friday on Twitter. He tweeted that he and “over half the team” made Penn State “rape” jokes in front of coaches, for a month or more.
The investigation began after Kluwe’s initial accusation in a January article he wrote on the website Deadspin.com. He said Priefer remarked before a special teams meeting: “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.”
At that time, Priefer issued a statement: “I vehemently deny today’s allegations made by Chris Kluwe. I want to be clear that I do not tolerate discrimination of any type and am respectful of all individuals. I personally have gay family members who I love and support just as I do any family member. The comments today have not only attacked my character and insulted my professionalism, but they have also impacted my family.”
The investigators’ report stated that long snapper Cullen Loeffler, who is still with the Vikings, corroborated Kluwe’s claim. The report also says that after denying to investigators in a first interview that he made anti-gay remarks, Priefer acknowledged in a second interview after learning of Loeffler’s statement that he may have made the comment.
“If [Loeffler] remembers me saying something on the practice field, I am not going to disagree with it,” Priefer said.
Priefer is adamant that the comment was made in jest, which Loeffler confirmed in the report. “It was a joke between three people, three men,” Priefer said.
Joke or no, Vikings owners are not pleased.
“We are very disappointed with some of the findings contained within the report,” Mark and Zygi Wilf said in a statement Friday. “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. Accountability, however, is important both on and off the field. In this instance, Coach Priefer fell short of what is expected.”
Littler Mendelson concluded, however, that the firm “did not find any support for the contention that the Vikings lacked institutional controls with respect to its workplace environment as it relates to homophobia” and that Kluwe was not released before the 2013 season because of his high-profile support of same-sex marriage.
The Vikings have maintained that the release of Kluwe — who was scheduled to make nearly $800,000 more than his rookie replacement, Jeff Locke, in 2013 — was due to his performance.
Headed to court?
In a meeting with the Vikings on Thursday, Kluwe’s lawyer, Clayton Halunen, gave the team until Friday to meet their requirements to settle out of court, which included $1 million that Kluwe would donate to charities that support LGBT causes, the release of the full findings of the investigation and a suspension of at least four games for Priefer. The Vikings did not respond to those requests, Halunen said.