Former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe has made headlines often over the past couple years due to his propensity for speaking his mind, and even though Kluwe is not currently employed by an NFL team, he continued to make waves by bashing Vikings coaches and executives.
Updates from Saturday, Jan. 25
St. Paul Pioneer Press' Chris Tomasson provides a statement from Kluwe discussing his meeting with investigators:
"I cooperated fully for the investigation,'' Kluwe told the Pioneer Press about Friday's meeting. "The investigation is ongoing. I'm not going to comment on anything else. But I was asked questions, and I answered them. ... I can say it was a productive meeting.''
A source close to the situation said Kluwe provided names he said were witnesses, and an attempt will be made to interview all those individuals. While Kluwe initially wanted those names to remain private, Madel said two weeks ago that nobody would be provided anonymity during the investigation.
"We interviewed him for approximately five hours,'' Madel said about Friday's meeting. "He answered all of our questions. There were no agreements with respect to anonymity of any witnesses or any other facts.''
Tomasson also reported that the punter and his attorney had text messages that backed up his claims:
In a five-hour meeting Friday with investigators, Halunen said Kluwe identified Walsh and long snapper Cullen Loeffler as witnesses to what Priefer allegedly said numerous times in 2012 special teams meetings involving the punter, kicker and long snapper., and that Pico was told about it after the fact. Halunen noted that Kluwe told investigators he is willing to take a polygraph test.
Walsh had issued a statement through the Vikings on Jan. 2 in defense of Priefer. But Halunen said Kluwe retained text messages in which Walsh referenced what Priefer allegedly said, including a text related to Priefer allegedly saying, "We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows."
"If Walsh is going to lie, this will all be exposed, I'm confident,'' Halunen said. "If Walsh is going to lie, that's his choice. But at the end of the day, we believe this is going to come out. We have evidence. So he made that choice, I guess.''
Updates from Friday, Jan. 10
St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter Chris Tomasson reports that Kluwe's interview with investigators has been moved:
Chris Kluwe interview w/investigators has been moved from Saturday to Jan 24 Investigators have agreed to let him name witnesses anonymously— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) January 10, 2014
Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio also notes that "the investigators have agreed to allow Kluwe to identify witnesses to the comments from Priefer without naming names."
Updates From Friday, Jan. 3
From Tom Pelissero of USA Today:
#Vikings have retained Eric Magnuson, former chief justice of MN Supreme Court, to complete independent review of Chris Kluwe allegations.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) January 3, 2014
#Vikings president Mark Wilf says it is "extremely important for the Vikings organization to react immediately and comprehensively" to this.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) January 3, 2014
#Vikings also have retained Chris Madel, former U.S. Dept of Justice trial attorney for the review. The investigation has already begun.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) January 3, 2014
From Ben Gosseling of ESPN:
Chris Kluwe said he'll cooperate with #Vikings' investigation, wasn't surprised players defended Priefer yesterday.— Ben Goessling (@GoesslingESPN) January 3, 2014
Kluwe said he doesn't have audio recordings of Priefer's comments; just his written recollections and other players whom he says heard them.— Ben Goessling (@GoesslingESPN) January 3, 2014
From Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press:
Magnuson/Madel trying to secure Kluwe cooperation. Interviews start Sat, most at law office, but team could subsidize travel to player homes— Brian Murphy (@murphPPress) January 4, 2014
In a firsthand account published by Deadspin.com Thursday, Kluwe explains the circumstances surrounding his release from the Vikings back in May. Kluwe doesn't pull any punches when it comes to chastising those involved with his release, including former Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier as well as special teams coach Mike Priefer and general manager Rick Spielman.
It's my belief, based on everything that happened over the course of 2012, that I was fired by Mike Priefer, a bigot who didn't agree with the cause I was working for, and two cowards, Leslie Frazier and Rick Spielman, both of whom knew I was a good punter and would remain a good punter for the foreseeable future, as my numbers over my eight-year career had shown, but who lacked the fortitude to disagree with Mike Priefer on a touchy subject matter.
Although Kluwe admits that he can't say with certainty that his activism for gay rights was a contributing factor to his release from Minnesota, he is "pretty confident" that it was.
Kluwe reveals that members of the Vikings organization attempted to silence him after he went public by supporting the Minnesotans for Marriage Equality group back in the summer of 2012.
He recalls a conversation that he specifically had with Frazier in which Frazier requested that Kluwe stop speaking out in favor of gay marriage.
Coach Frazier immediately told me that I "needed to be quiet, and stop speaking out on this stuff" (referring to my support for same-sex marriage rights). I told Coach Frazier that I felt it was the right thing to do (what with supporting equality and all), and I also told him that one of his main coaching points to us was to be "good men" and to "do the right thing." He reiterated his fervent desire for me to cease speaking on the subject, stating that "a wise coach once told me there are two things you don't talk about in the NFL, politics and religion." I repeated my stance that this was the right thing to do, that equality is not something to be denied anyone, and that I would not promise to cease speaking out. At that point, Coach Frazier told me in a flat voice, "If that's what you feel you have to do," and the meeting ended.
Despite Frazier's feelings, Kluwe received a great deal of support from Vikings owner Zygi Wilf. Even so, Kluwe believes that Frazier, Priefer and Spielman took measures to silence him.
Do you agree with Kluwe's decision to go public with this account?
Kluwe goes on to describe several instances in which Priefer used inappropriate language and demonstrated bigotry toward gay people. Kluwe also says that Priefer had become hostile toward him, and that it likely had to do with Kluwe's outside ventures rather than his on-field performance.
In November and December, I was frequently marked for negative scores by Mike Priefer on our "Production Point" sheet for punts that earlier had been marked positive, despite the numbers being almost exactly the same in terms of hangtime and distance. I do not know if these "Production Point" sheets were ever shown to our general manager or head coach, nor do I know if they were used to evaluate my job performance, though I suspect they were.
Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune provides Priefer's take:
I vehemently deny today’s allegations made by Chris Kluwe. z
I want to be clear that I do not tolerate discrimination of any type and am respectful of all individuals. I personally have gay family members who I love and support just as I do any family member.
The primary reason I entered coaching was to affect people in a positive way. As a coach, I have always created an accepting environment for my players, including Chris, and have looked to support them both on and off the field.
The comments today have not only attacked my character and insulted my professionalism, but they have also impacted my family. While my career focus is to be a great professional football coach, my number one priority has always been to be a protective husband and father to my wife and children.
I will continue to work hard for the Minnesota Vikings, the Wilf family and all of our loyal fans.
Kluwe mentions being asked by Spielman to stop tweeting about the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI in February due to the controversy that it created.
After Minnesota selected punter Jeff Locke in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL draft to complement Blair Walsh, Kluwe was ultimately released. He mentions several times throughout the account that his numbers in 2012 were right in line with what he had done throughout his career, which means that something else had to be at work.
While Kluwe kept things under wraps for quite some time, the fact that Frazier was fired on Dec. 30 likely had something to do with his decision to come forward.
If there's one thing I hope to achieve from sharing this story, it's to make sure that Mike Priefer never holds a coaching position again in the NFL, and ideally never coaches at any level. (According to the Pioneer Press, he is "the only in-house candidate with a chance" at the head-coaching job.)
The Vikings have since released a statement on the allegations on the team website:
The Minnesota Vikings were made aware of Chris Kluwe’s allegations for the first time today. We take them very seriously and will thoroughly review this matter.
As an organization, the Vikings consistently strive to create a supportive, respectful and accepting environment for all of our players, coaches and front office personnel. We do not tolerate discrimination at any level. The team has long respected our players’ and associates’ individual rights, and, as Chris specifically stated, Vikings ownership supports and promotes tolerance, including on the subject of marriage equality. Because he was identified with the Vikings, Chris was asked to be respectful while expressing his opinions. Team ownership and management also repeatedly emphasized to Chris that the Vikings would not impinge on his right to express his views.
Any notion that Chris was released from our football team due to his stance on marriage equality is entirely inaccurate and inconsistent with team policy. Chris was released strictly based on his football performance.
We will have further comment at the appropriate time.
Kluwe is also considering a discrimination lawsuit, according to Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press:
I just spoke at length with Chris Kluwe. Has not ruled out a discrimination lawsuit. Would have made $1.25-$1.4 million this year if not cut— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) January 2, 2014
As Bruce Arthur of TSN points out, Kluwe's decision to implicate the Vikings may prevent him from ever punting in the NFL again.
Chris Kluwe told the truth, and he won't play again in the NFL because of it. Might not have anyway, of course. But it's admirable as hell.— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) January 2, 2014
Kluwe himself acknowledges the risk he took in publishing his version of events, saying, "...it's clear to me that no matter how much I want to prove I can play, I will no longer punt in the NFL, especially now that I've written this account."
Whether it is fair or not, that is very much a real possibility with Kluwe, 32, currently a free agent.
With that in mind, there is no doubt that Kluwe felt very strongly about setting the record straight if he was willing to put his livelihood on the line.
It will remain to be seen how the Vikings organization will respond to these accusations.
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