An investigation by an independent counsel supported claims made by former Minnesota punter Chris Kluwe that special teams coach Mike Priefer had made homophobic remarks, leading Priefer to be suspended for three games by the Vikings.
MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings and former punter Chris Kluwe agreed to a settlement regarding his release from the team and claims of homophobic remarks made by special teams coach Mike Preifer.
Kluwe’s allegations against the Vikings began in January after he penned a strongly-worded article for the website Deadspin.com, which outlined several instances of homophobic remarks made by Priefer, who was retained under new coach Mike Zimmer after Leslie Frazier was fired.
Kluwe and his lawyer, Clayton Halunen had threatened a lawsuit against the team for sexual orientation discrimination, defamation and "torturous interference for contractual relations."
In the settlement, the Vikings will donate to several LGBT charities over the next five years, will conduct continued sensitivity training within the organization and help sponsor a symposium to raise awareness, according to Clayton Halunen, Kluwe’s attorney.
"This will help a lot of people," Kluwe said in a press conference at Halunen’s Minneapolis office. "I think the Vikings are committed to making changes. I think they’re committed to being leaders on this issue in the NFL and I think that it will make a difference over the coming years."
The Vikings released a statement, adding that the financial support will help human rights and anti-hate causes and the team will further embody its code of conduct and employee handbook with a zero tolerance policy for any discrimination or harassment because of race, religion, national origin or sexual orientation within the organization.
"We appreciate Chris Kluwe’s contributions to the Minnesota Vikings as a player and a member of this organization during his eight seasons in which he established many team records as our punter, and we wish him and his family the best in the future," Vikings owner/chairman Zygi Wilf said in the statement. "In regards to this matter, our focus remains on maintaining a culture of tolerance, inclusion and respect, and creating the best workplace environment for our players, coaches and staff."
Owner/president Mark Wilf added in the statement: "As a family we have long-supported equal rights causes, including marriage equality. We are glad a resolution of this matter has been reached, and we look forward to continuing our efforts to create positive awareness of these issues."
Details of the settlement were not made public and Kluwe signed a confidentiality agreement as part of the settlement.
"The agreement is fine," Kluwe said. "It’s one of those things where no one ever really gets what they want. The thing is we are able to do a lot of good for a lot of people. If I really want to believe in what I say, I can’t make it about me. It has to be about helping other people. This allows us to do that."
In the Deadspin piece, Kluwe called Priefer a "bigot" and claimed Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman were "cowards" for not taking action after Kluwe reported Priefer’s remarks.
Kluwe, one of the best statistical punters in Vikings history in his eight seasons with the team, had become well-known for his public stances on same-sex marriage rights, speaking out often in support of equal rights both locally and nationally. But after a season in which he was constantly in the news, Kluwe was released in the offseason.
The Vikings hired two outside lawyers, former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnusson and U.S. Department of Justice trial attorney Chris Madel, to investigate Kluwe’s allegations. The investigation supported some of Kluwe’s claims and Priefer was suspended for three games by the team.
Kluwe and Halunen contended all along the full report of the investigation should be released.
"We were adamant about it, our concern was that it may have identified some systemic issue of discrimination within the Vikings’ organization and after we had a chance to review, we found that there was really nothing there," Halunen said. "So, we’re satisfied with what we were provided, that there is no issue and that this settlement will really impact people in a way that’s so positive that it was the only alternative in our estimation."
Kluwe believed his release in 2012 was due to his public activism, while the team made the choice to draft Jeff Locke and said the choice to cut Kluwe was because of declining production.
Kluwe has been out of football since being released by the Oakland Raiders in preseason last year. He signed with Oakland after his offseason release by Minnesota. The former punter knew he could damage his future in the NFL in January when he made his allegations against the Vikings.
"It’s always worth it," Kluwe said Tuesday. "You have a children’s game and you have basic human rights. One of those I’m always going to value over the other. I would hope other people would be the same way."
Kluwe will not profit from the settlement, with all of the monetary donations going to the LGBT charities, including the Mathew Shepard Foundation, a charity run by the parents of a University of Wyoming student who was beaten to death in 1998 because he was gay.
Kluwe said he intends to write a book one day, though he can’t comment on this particular situation due to the confidentiality agreement. He said going through the situation with the Vikings wasn’t easy and was "long."
"I’m very glad we were able to come to this," Kluwe said. "Hopefully we can all move on with our lives now and enjoy playing football . . . Best of luck to them."