On January 2, 2014, former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe penned a scathing indictment of the Vikings on the website Deadspin
, claiming that special teams coordinator Mike Priefer made homophobic slurs in front of players and that both general manager Rick Spielman and then-head coach Leslie Frazier did nothing to stop the culture of homophobia alleging that his reaction to those remarks and his advocacy of the same-sex marriage ballot question in 2012 directly led to his release on May 6, 2013, days after the Vikings drafted punter Jeff Locke
The Vikings retained Eric Magnuson, the former chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, and his law partner Chris Madel to conduct an independent review of Kluwe’s allegations.
The review was asked to thoroughly investigate three specific areas of concern. First, did Priefer make the offensive/insensitive remarks alleged by Kluwe in his presence? Second, did representatives of the Vikings discourage Kluwe from publicly supporting marriage equality and were they aware of the alleged Priefer comments prior to the publication of the Deadspin
article? Third, was Kluwe’s marriage equality activism the reason for his release?
The investigation was completed earlier this week and, on Friday, the Vikings released portions of the investigation along with comments from Priefer and a joint statement from Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf.
The six-month investigation included interviews with 31 potential witnesses, a review of electronically stored information as well as multiple paper documents. At least one former FBI special agent attended each of the interviews. In addition, the investigation included a pair of independent NFL expert witnesses – former NFL executive Jerry Angelo and 17-year veteran punter Craig Hentrich
– to analyze whether Kluwe’s performance as a punter and grade out whether his performance warranted his potential release and the factors that could have been involved.
Once the investigation finished, in order the maintain objectivity, the Vikings hired the law firm Littler Mendelson P.C., a nationally-recognized law firm dealing in employment diversity issues, to review and assess the finding and provide their expertise in a report dealing with the issue from the employment law perspective.
Rather than paraphrasing the results of the investigation, here are the findings released by topic. The use of ellipses (…) comes from the portions of the report that were released, making it clear that the passages are summarized from a larger full document. These were the official findings:
As to the question of whether Priefer made the remarks in question, the reported stated, “There is support in the record through (Cullen) Loeffler that Priefer made the single homophobic statement to Kluwe … Loeffler said that Priefer made this statement after becoming frustrated that Loeffler and Kluwe were not focused on football during practice … There is no support in the record that Priefer made any additional statements of this nature.”
As to whether attempts were made to discourage Kluwe’s marriage equality advocacy, the report stated, “We also did not find 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.”
As to whether Vikings coaches or front office personnel had any prior knowledge of Priefer’s comments prior to the release of the Deadspin article, the report stated, “Kluwe himself stated that he never reported any of Priefer’s alleged statements to management, Human Resources, or anyone else other than in discussions with Loeffler and (Blair) Walsh. The investigation did reveal, however, that sometime on May 2, 2013, Kluwe discussed Priefer’s alleged statement with Les Pico, Vikings Executive Director of Player Development/Legal. According to Kluwe, he asked Loeffler to sign an affidavit stating that he had heard Priefer make homophobic statements. Loeffler then met with Pico to discuss the affidavit … According to Kluwe, it did not appear that Pico was going to tell anyone else about what was discussed in the meeting out of concern that doing so would jeopardize Loeffler’s job with the Vikings … Pico said that Kluwe was adamant that Pico keep the entire conversation confidential and not disclose any part of it to anyone in the Vikings organization. Pico recalled telling Kluwe that their conversation was confidential. Kluwe then told Pico that he knew his time with the Vikings was finished and that all he wanted to do was to compete in the NFL and not be ‘blackballed’; if he was not blackballed, then ‘there would be no issue.’ Pico said “Kluwe was adamant that he was not making a report to Pico because [Kluwe] knew he ‘was already done with the Vikings.’ Kluwe told Pico he wanted the affidavit because it would provide him ‘leverage.’ … During his interview, investigators asked Kluwe why he did not bring Priefer’s comments to the attention of others within the Vikings organization sooner. Kluwe explained that at the time, he did not know he was going to be released from the Vikings so he thought Priefer’s remarks were ‘a momentary unpleasant thing’ that would pass as they moved on to the next year.”
As to whether Kluwe’s activism played a role in his release from the Vikings, the report stated, “The record does not support the claim that the Vikings released Kluwe because of his activism on behalf of same-sex marriage, but instead because of his declining punting performance in 2012 and potentially because of the distraction caused by Kluwe’s activism as opposed to the substance of such … 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 … There is also the issue of Kluwe’s age (31) and salary ($1.3 million) in 2012 and slated salary of $1.4 million in 2013. Several coaching staff members noted that Kluwe’s age, previous knee injury and leg strength showed a punter in decline. Also, the Vikings were able to sign drafted punter (Jeff) Locke for $405,000, less than one-third of Kluwe’s scheduled 2013 salary … In grading Kluwe, (Angelo and Hentrich) considered criteria, including but not limited to: (1) get-off time; (2) gross punting average; (3) net punting average; (4) hang time; (5) directional punting; and (6) pooch punting…Angelo said that if he held the title of General Manager for the Minnesota Vikings for the 2012 season, he would have “in all likelihood” released Chris Kluwe as the Vikings punter.”
As to whether Kluwe’s same-sex marriage advocacy created a hostile work environment, the report stated, “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.”
The conclusion was that the Vikings organization and owners doesn’t condone, tolerate or accept the type of remarks that were made by Priefer. As a result of the investigation, the Vikings announced that Priefer will serve a three-game suspension without pay during the 2014 season that can be reduced to a two-game suspension provided Priefer attends an anti-harassment/diversity/sexual orientation sensitivity training class.
It was noted that all Vikings players, coaches and employees have been required to attend an annual sensitivity training seminar that deals with those same topics for several years and that the Vikings will step up their efforts to improve those education programs. The Vikings also pledged to make a $100,000 to charitable and educational organizations that deal with Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender (LGBT) rights.
In a statement from Priefer, he expressed contrition for the comments and took responsibility for his role in the black eye that the scrutiny of the Vikings organization took following the release of the Kluwe allegations.
“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. “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 statement from the Wilfs, they thanked the professionals who conducted the investigation, but maintained that there is no place for such actions or behavior in their organization.
The Wilf statement was as follows:
“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.
“Accountability, however, is important both on and off the field. In this instance, Coach Priefer fell short of what is expected. Accordingly, we have decided to suspend Coach Priefer without pay for the first three games of the 2014 regular season. In addition, he will be required to satisfactorily complete specialized workplace training that will include an emphasis on the managing of diversity and sexual orientation. If Coach Priefer completes this training and conducts himself in accordance with our workplace policies, we will consider reducing the length of his suspension by one game.
“We will continue to hold all team members accountable and take the outlined critical steps to further educate everyone within our organization both individually and collectively. We will accept nothing less than creating a franchise that Minnesotans and Vikings fans everywhere can be proud of on and off the field.”
Earlier this week, Kluwe had said that he would sue the Vikings if the report was not released. Kluwe told the Associated Press he still intends to sue the team for discrimination. For those interested, the full conclusions of Littler Mendelson can be found at www.kluweinvestigation.com.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
A 29-page summary of a larger 150-page report shows Mike Priefer made an insensitive comment but that Chris Kluwe’s performance was the reason for his release.
Report shows Priefer made an insensitive comment, but Kluwe’s performance caused his release.