Vikings release findings of investigation of claims made by former punter Kluwe
The Minnesota Vikings have released the findings of their investigation into homophobic remarks made by special teams coach Mike Priefer after allegations by former punter Chris Kluwe. However, Kluwe isn’t satisfied with the Vikings’ actions and said he will file a lawsuit against the team on Monday.
The team announced Friday evening that Priefer would be suspended for three games without pay during the 2014 season and a donation of $100,000 would be made to LGBT rights charitable and educational organizations.
The investigation discovered Priefer did make "the singular homophobic statement to Kluwe," as witnessed by long snapper Cullen Loeffler during a special teams’ meeting. Kluwe has contended that Priefer made several anti-gay remarks during Kluwe’s final season with the team in 2012 when he became more outspoken for gay rights, including gay-marriage rights in Minnesota.
In a story on Deadspin.com in January, Kluwe accused Priefer of saying, "We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows." While the investigation concluded Priefer did make one comment to Kluwe, it states: "There is no support in the record that Priefer made any additional statements of this nature."
Loeffler witnessed the statement and said the instance came after Priefer was upset that Kluwe and Loeffler were not focused during a practice.
The Vikings’ release included a statement from Priefer stating: "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. 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 said he wanted the full report made public and a settlement with the Vikings couldn’t be agreed on with Kluwe wanting stricter punishment for Priefer as well as a larger monetary sum to be given to LGBT charities.
Kluwe had said he would reconsider a lawsuit against the team as long as the findings were released and a settlement could be agreed upon. Kluwe confirmed Friday he will follow through with a lawsuit against the team through his lawyer, Clayton Halunen.
"Never let it be said that I didn’t try. Apparently the Vikings want to do this the hard way," Kluwe tweeted Friday evening.
On Tuesday, Halunen and Kluwe had a press conference announcing the legal action they would take against the team, including claims of religious discrimination against Kluwe, sexual orientation discrimination, defamation and "torturous interference for contractual relations."
Kluwe’s allegations against the Vikings began in January after he penned a strongly worded article for Deadspin, which outlined several instances of homophobic remarks made by Priefer, who was retained under new coach Mike Zimmer after Leslie Frazier was fired.
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 in 2013.
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 took nearly six months and 31 individuals were interviewed during the process. Once the investigation was complete, the Vikings had the law firm of Littler Mendelson P.C. and partner Donald Prophete review the findings from an employment law perspective.
The report released Friday states there was not "sufficient evidence to establish that members of the Vikings organization attempted to discourage Kluwe from engaging in marriage equality or equal rights activism. … The record supports the conclusion that players and management were concerned about the distraction that Kluwe’s activism was creating, as opposed to the nature and content of his activism. The record does not support the contention that members of management and the coaching staff were focused on discouraging Kluwe based on the nature of his activism."
Kluwe told investigators he never reported any of Priefer’s statements to management, human resources, or "anyone else other than in discussions with Loeffler and (kicker Blair) Walsh," according to the report.
The investigation also shows no support that Kluwe was released because of his activism. The investigators interviewed former punter Craig Hentrich and former Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo to consider Kluwe’s punting record.
"The objective evidence, in addition to the subjective evaluation of coaches, special-teams staff members and external evaluators, simply contradict Kluwe’s view of his performance in 2012. No interviewed witness agreed that Kluwe had a good year in 2012," the report reads.
Also included in the report is a statement from Angelo stating: "he would have ‘in all likelihood’ released Chris Kluwe as the Vikings punter," if he were the team’s general manager.
The investigation findings also concluded that "We 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. To the contrary, the evidence establishes that the Wilf Family Foundation has been a strong supporter of equal rights, specifically anti-bullying, for the LGBT community. Other than the statement allegedly made by Priefer, the record is devoid of any support for the contention that the team harbored a homophobic hostile work environment."
Priefer will also undergo workplace training for diversity and sexual orientation, though his suspension could be reduced by one game if he completes the training and "conducts himself in accordance with our workplace policies," according to a statement from Vikings’ owners Mark and Zygi Wilf.
"We are pleased that they concluded that there was no wrongdoing on the club’s part and that the decision to release Chris was based on his on-field performance," the Wilfs said in the statement. "We are very disappointed with some of the findings contained within the report. 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."
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