Whelp. If you thought that the whole Chris Kluwe-sparked investigation into Mike Priefer was going to have a happy ending, you can pretty much give up on that now. Also, if you were hoping it wouldn’t become a big distraction for the front office as it goes through a major offseason… also, give up on that now.
To recap from the beginning, Kluwe wrote a piece a short while ago alleging that he was released from the team primarily for his views on same-sex marriage and rights. While acknowledging that he was indeed a veteran who would cost more money and was getting up there in age, he felt that his talents were good enough to have been retained; but it was of course much more than that feeling that led him to write the piece. Instead, his beliefs largely stemmed from comments he claimed ST coach Priefer made regarding his views on same-sex issues, including the now infamous ‘let’s put them on an island and nuke it’ line. Kluwe felt these were far more than jokes, and that they also illustrated the reason that he was released. (He also accused then HC Leslie Frazier and GM Rick Spielman of being cowards for doing nothing about the situation.)
Kluwe also wrote that the reason he had waited until after the season to pen his piece was so as to not cause distractions for the Vikings, as he still felt he had friends on the team and did not want to interrupt their work. With that concept in mind, he also claimed he would not name those who witnessed his allegations as he felt they might face reprisals, and wished to spare them.
Shortly after the piece broke, several players spoke out in support of Priefer, notably kicker Blair Walsh. While most players simply spoke to what they felt about Priefer’s character, Walsh also somewhat took Kluwe directly to task for his article. That move in particular did surprise me some at the time because, while they only spent one year together, it had appeared that Kluwe and Walsh had created a bond- Walsh even took both Kluwe as well as long snapper Cullen Loeffler with him to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl (not as participants, but as guests) in thanks for their snapping and holding skills that Walsh felt helped his phenomenal rookie season. Quite the classy move, if you ask me.
The Vikings then engaged in an independent investigation into the matter, retaining counsel to interview Priefer, Kluwe, and any witnesses the two were to name (in private) for their statements. Kluwe also retained his own counsel for the situation, although he stated that he would avoid legal action during the course of the investigation.
Well, things have heated up since then. Like, nuclear island heat.
First off, Kluwe has apparently changed his mind about the whole ‘not naming names’ part. The three people he claim as witnesses to the situation are none other than Walsh himself, Loeffler, and Les Pico (director of player personnel). In fact, Kluwe’s lawyer claims that Kluwe has texts from Walsh referencing Priefer’s homophobic statements, including of course the nuclear island bit. It appears Kluwe felt betrayed by Walsh’s statement after the whole kerfuffle started, but there’s really no explanation why Loeffler (who, unless I missed it, never made a statement either way) got his name tossed out.
Things get worse.
Apparently, Kluwe is so stung by the support Priefer received from the punter’s former teammates that he has declared that if Walsh, Loeffler, and others do not make what Kluwe feels are open and honest attestations as to what they witnessed, he will put them in a courthouse to place them under oath. Kluwe’s lawyer also specified that if the Vikings opt to retain Priefer (which recent news makes it sound as if that’s the route they’re headed), then he will take legal action against the team.
Look, I really like Chris Kluwe. I think he’s smart and funny, I liked his book, I did support his public stances. I was still planning on getting a stinking punter’s jersey because of all that- but I don’t think I can support all of this. The truth is if Mike Priefer said what he said then yes, some sort of action should be taken. Any coach that personally belittles a player in such a public and ruthless manner needs to at minimum be strongly disciplined, and I wouldn’t be opposed to his release. I don’t really care where you stand on same-sex issues; the point of the matter is that it boils down to Priefer bullying a player because he didn’t agree with certain views. I don’t care if you’re a player’s coach or a hardass, that’s never acceptable, and it will cause issues sooner or later in the locker room.
All that said, I feel Kluwe is going too far here. First off, switching from “I’m not naming names to respect others” to “I don’t like what they said so here are their names” comes across as something of a tantrum to me. If Kluwe took personal issue with what Walsh said, then hash it out behind closed doors. Cut off the friendship, give him an angry phone call at 1 in the morning. Do what you have to do but c’mon, threatening to take him to court to put him under oath? And again, after claiming you wouldn’t even publicly say names? And I again don’t know why Loeffler’s name got thrown out- maybe something happened we never heard about, but it seemed like those guys were BFFs, so how you end up publicly dragging him into this (with the same court room threat), that just seems… odd? Not sure what the right word is.
And while Kluwe is by and far NOT the first person to go this route by any means, but the ‘no legal action to respect the investigation’ line is getting tired when, in reality, what he (and everyone else who has ever pulled this move) really means is ‘no legal action assuming the investigation goes my way and gives me what I want’. Besides, attempting to take the Vikings to court should they retain Priefer is not likely going to do anything for Kluwe. As he himself pointed out, he was a veteran getting up there in age, due greater amounts of money, and coming off a surgery. And while he was the statistically best punter in Vikings history, the guy isn’t Ray Guy- the position could have been upgraded. (Whether or not drafting a punter in the 5th round, a punter who in fact really didn’t do much to actually upgrade the position, was the right way to do it is a story I’ll let Mark tackle.) There are a million reasons, all legitimate, that the Vikings could very simply argue was the reason that Kluwe was released. The NFL is a brutal business as Kluwe was well aware; just look at what happened to Antoine Winfield. Any attempt to prove he was released due to his views is going to fall flat on its face in court. And regarding attempts to prove ‘workplace harassment’ is going to get ugly, drawn out, and most likely will do nothing. The best Kluwe could hope for in that situation is a token response from a sympathetic court, but the chances are unbelievably remote it will give Kluwe what he apparently wants- Priefer’s ousting. In reality, there will be no way to prove in court that Priefer was acting maliciously if he, players, and the Vikings organization contend that they were all just ‘tasteless jokes’ made in a rough-and-tumble locker room.
Again, if all this is true as Kluwe alleges, then I think Priefer should be booted. And I can also understand Kluwe’s anger and resentment not just at Priefer, but also at Walsh. But the levels this is reaching are coming to what I feel amount to childish actions, temper tantrums of someone not getting what they want.
Hopefully this comes to a resolution soon. I have no idea what that resolution will be or even what it should be, as I was not there behind closed doors during all this drama to know what actually happened, or to know what everyone’s true intentions were. We’ll just have to keep tuning in to the soap opera.
For the original piece on Pioneer Press, please click here.
For the original piece on Pioneer Press, please click here.