The Minnesota Vikings have suspended special teams coordinator Mike Priefer for three games after an independent investigation of the organization corroborated former punter Chris Kluwe's claim that Priefer made homophobic remarks during the 2012 season, the team announced Friday night.
Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and president Mark Wilf released a statement Friday, saying in part: "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."
ESPN obtained an email from a source close to the investigation, in which Kluwe's attorney, Clayton Halunen, told investigator Chris Madel on July 8 he did not think the report -- which includes a 150-page summary, footnotes and interview transcripts among other evidence -- should be made public, instead arguing for an executive summary of the findings. Halunen said, however, that the executive summary he was referring to in the email is the same as the 150-page document he is now trying to get in court, adding that he and Madel were only discussing the omission of report footnotes and interview transcripts that would bring sensitive personal information to light.
A 29-page summary of the investigation the Vikings released on Friday night, after a review from the law firm of Littler Mendelson PC, was not acceptable to Halunen or Kluwe, the attorney said. That summary stated there was no evidence to support Kluwe's claim that the Vikings released him in May 2013 for his support of same-sex marriage.
Halunen said the punter still plans to file suit against the team in Minnesota state court next week and will seek damages in the neighborhood of $10 million.
Priefer denied Kluwe's claims in a statement after the punter first published them in Deadspin on Jan. 2, and again denied making homophobic remarks in his first meeting with investigators on Jan. 6. However, after long snapper Cullen Loeffler told investigators on April 23 that he did hear Priefer make a comment about "putting all the gays on an island and nuking it," Priefer said he "was not going to disagree" with Loeffler's statement about the comment. Loeffler told investigators, though, that Priefer was joking at the time, and that both he and Kluwe laughed off the remark.
The summary of the report, however, did not find evidence to support Kluwe's claim he was cut for reasons other than his on-field performance. Investigators talked to former All-Pro punter Craig Hentrich, who gave Kluwe a "C" for his 2012 performance, and former Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, who said he "in all likelihood" would have released Kluwe after that season. According to the report, Priefer gave Kluwe the highest grade for his 2012 performance of any of the Vikings' season-ending reviews. General manager Rick Spielman told investigators that the Vikings' talent evaluators "pretty unanimously" agreed Kluwe should be released, citing his struggles with directional punting. The Vikings took punter Jeff Locke in the fifth round of the 2013 draft, and cut Kluwe after their rookie camp.
Halunen said he and Kluwe had asked for a four-to-eight game suspension for Priefer, and added Kluwe had asked for the Vikings to donate $1 million to charities that support LGBT-friendly causes. The team announced Friday it was donating $100,000.
Halunen said he will push for the full 150-page summary of the investigation to be made public during the discovery process of a lawsuit. He admitted that portions of the report -- like Kluwe's jokes about the Jerry Sandusky scandal and an incident where he dropped his pants in front of 20-25 businesspeople who were touring the locker room -- "are not flattering to my client." Despite that, he said, he wants the full report to be available to the public.
"They will fight over it," Halunen said. "I know it. If they are required to give it to me, they'll try to do it under a protective order, but I'm going to fight to keep it public."