MANKATO – While purple-clad fans tooted Vikings horns and hulking NFL players wheeled luggage into the dorms Thursday in anticipation of the start of Camp Zimmer, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer somberly made his first public comments since his suspension was announced last week.
Priefer, who is suspended for the first three games of the regular season, again apologized for making an anti-gay comment in a team setting in 2012.
“I like to set a higher standard for myself — a higher standard of conduct, a higher standard of work ethic, a higher standard of being a father and a husband, and I expect a lot from my players as well,” Priefer said. “In this situation, with my comment, I failed.
“I didn’t just go below the bar. I went way below the bar. I made a mistake. I was wrong. I brought a lot of undue attention to the Minnesota Vikings organization and brought an unwanted distraction, and I apologize. The apology that I spoke about, that I put out [in a statement] on Friday, I want to reiterate that in a very humble and sincere manner.”
The Vikings want the focus to be on football when coach Mike Zimmer’s first training camp officially kicks off Friday at Minnesota State Mankato, but with the recently wrapped investigation into Priefer’s comments causing a stir and former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe’s on-again, off-again plans to sue the organization looming, the team trotted out Priefer, Zimmer and General Manager Rick Spielman to discuss the situation.
None went into specifics about what was said to independent investigators during their six-month investigation, referring reporters to the 29-page summary of the findings that was released by the Vikings last Friday in concert with the announcement of Priefer’s suspension.
As part of his terms for reinstatement, Priefer must attend sensitivity training, likely during the first week of the regular season. He doesn’t know yet what exactly that entails, but if he cooperates, the Vikings say they will consider reducing his suspension from three games to two.
‘It was a joke’
Asked if the team considered firing Priefer when determining his punishment, Spielman replied, “When the report came out last Friday and I know we reviewed everything, and this is what we thought and our ownership thought was the best course of action.”
In a January article on the website Deadspin, Kluwe accused Priefer of saying in a 2012 team meeting, “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.”
Long snapper Cullen Loeffler, who corroborated Kluwe’s claims to investigators, said Thursday that he never thought that was “a serious comment.”
“I always thought it was a joke,” Loeffler said. “They both laughed about it.”
Priefer got emotional when asked what he regretted most about what transpired between him and Kluwe.
“The biggest thing I regret is I brought a lot of bad publicity to the Minnesota Vikings and I felt like I let my family down,” Priefer said, choking up as he finished his sentence.
Zimmer acknowledged it was a distraction Thursday, but he doesn’t expect it to be one going forward.
“I’ve been with the Dallas Cowboys and the Bengals and Atlanta and there have been distractions on every single team — so-called distractions — but the media and the fans make it out to be a little bit bigger of a distraction than it is for the football team,” Zimmer said.
Zimmer is standing behind Priefer, whom he decided to keep on his staff after replacing Leslie Frazier in January — and after Kluwe first made his claims on Deadspin.
“I know what is inside of him,” he said. “I know what’s in his heart. And he made a mistake, and if anyone here hasn’t made a mistake, I want you to raise your hand, because I know I’ve made plenty.”
The Vikings are weighing their options for replacing Priefer on an interim basis. The team could temporarily elevate second-year special teams assistant Ryan Ficken or bring in someone from outside the organization. Zimmer expects to make that decision soon.
Priefer, who won’t be allowed inside the team facility during his suspension, said it “hurts” that he will have to be away from his players. But he respects the team’s decision to suspend him and vowed to show more sensitivity so that a situation like this never happens again.
“I’m not going to change the way I coach and I’m not going to change the way I teach,” Priefer said. “But I’ve learned a lesson. I have learned a lesson here. That’s a great thing about this situation, I’m going to look back and say something good had to come from this. But I learned a hard lesson. I’ve got to be sensitive to other people in what I say.”