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Vikings assistant coach Mike Priefer suspended three games after investigation

By Chris Tomasson

St. Paul Pioneer Press

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota  Vikings suspended special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer for three games Friday after completing an investigation into former punter Chris Kluwe’s allegations earlier this year that Priefer made homophobic remarks during the 2012 season.

The penalty can be reduced to two games if Priefer completes sensitivity training.

Kluwe claimed in a first-person article in January for that Priefer made the remarks and that he was released by Vikings in May 2013 after eight seasons with the team because of his outspoken support for same-sex marriage.

However, the Vikings, in a response issued Friday after a six-month investigation into Kluwe’s allegations, said they did not find any evidence that Kluwe was released because of those views and that he was let go for football-only reasons.

Kluwe and his lawyer, Clayton Halunen, were dissatisfied with what the team released and both said a lawsuit will be filed next week against the team. Halunen said the suit will seek more than $10 million in damages.

Kluwe and Halunen both expressed dissatisfaction that the full report, which is about 150 pages, was not released. Instead, the Vikings released a three-page summary and a 29-page report by employment analyst Donald S. Prophete, retained by the team to review the independent investigation the Vikings originally commenced under attorneys Eric Magnuson and Chris Madel.

The team reported that it found only one instance of Priefer making a homophobic remark during the 2012 season. But Kluwe disagreed, telling the Pioneer Press on Friday that Priefer made at least three such remarks.

“I owe an apology to many people, the Wilf family (owner of the Vikings), 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 in a statement. “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 and Halunen had proposed a settlement to the Vikings, which included Priefer being suspended for four to eight games, the full report being made public and the Vikings donating $1 million to LGBT groups. The Vikings have agreed to donate $100,000, but Kluwe and Halunen both called that amount unacceptable.

“I think it’s very unfortunate,” Halunen told the Pioneer Press of the Vikings’ response. “It sounds to me nothing like the findings and the recommendation of the investigators of the 150-page report. It sounds like (the report is) being completely whitewashed and it’s dishonest to people.”

Halunen said he hasn’t seen the full report but that he has been advised plenty over the past six months about what would be in the report. He named Madel and Kevin Warren, the Vikings’ vice president of legal affairs, as among those he had heard from.

Madel declined to comment. Warren said he did not have an immediate comment when reached Friday night.

Kluwe also was dissatisfied with what the Vikings released Friday.

“It just shows that the Vikings clearly don’t want to get to the bottom of a culture that clearly protects homophobic behavior,” Kluwe said. “It’s clear to me they’re trying to whitewash this and sweep this under the rug.”

Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf issued a joint statement in the team’s response to the investigation.

“We are very disappointed with some of the findings contained within the report,” the statement read in part. “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.”

The Vikings said all employees, coaches and players have been required to attend annual anti-harassment, diversity and sexual-orientation sensitivity training for the past several years. The Vikings said they will continue to look at and take additional steps in those programs.

Kluwe was disappointed that the report said Priefer made only one homophobic comment. Kluwe alleged in the Deadspin article one comment Priefer had made was, “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island and nuke it until it glows.”

“There were numerous occasions that (Priefer) said that I would burn in hell with the gays,” Kluwe said Friday.

Priefer had issued a statement when the Deadspin article came out “vehemently” denying he ever made a homophobic remark. He did not admit he did so until a third interview he had with investigators.

“I would say he just acknowledged it,” a source said. “He said that if this other person had heard him say that, then this other person doesn’t lie.”

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.