Wednesday, March 4, 2015
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chris kluwe

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The recent fallout in Miami is a sober reminder that the NFL locker room is not immune to drama, nor is it exempt from workplace misconduct being investigated and punished.  One giant monkey on the back of the Vikings organization continues to be the investigation into the allegations made by punter Chris Kluwe against Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer.

There are many reasons for an individual to note the outcome of the investigation when the time comes.  When you narrow the interest down to just the football ramifications, however, there are no positive outcomes likely.

If the investigators deem that Priefer, General Manager Rick Spielman, Owner Zygi Wilf, or the Vikings organization as a whole are indeed guilty of bigotry and workplace misconduct then heads could roll at Winter Park.  This scenario played out (or is playing out currently) in Miami and it isn’t pretty.

This is the point in the offseason where the coaching ranks have been pretty well picked over and trying to replace a guy like Priefer, who even Kluwe admits is a very good special teams coach, would almost certainly result in a lesser on-field product.  That type of scenario would certainly hinder the team’s chances at success in 2014.

Chris Kluwe has always done notable things away from the football field.  Video game guru, radio personality, Shakespearian whiteboard user, rock n’ roller, and family man.  These are all things that Kluwe has received press for over the years, but he is now destined to forever be tied to the gay rights movement, but not just because of his outspoken activism.

Kluwe’s recent Deadspin article that called special teams coach Mike Priefer a bigot ensures that his legacy will be as an NFL activist instead of as a damned good punter with a nice, long career in Minnesota.

I recently noted on Twitter that I was surprised Kluwe was still being allowed to talk about his allegations publicly.  After all, he has now retained a lawyer, and it seems like normal protocol is for a lawyer to immediately and bluntly tell their clients to cease all discussions about the case.

Kluwe responded to me on Twitter, though, and pointed out that there is actually no official case to be concerned about here.  The Vikings are performing their own investigation of his allegations, which included calling out Rick Spielman and Leslie Frazier as “cowards,” but Kluwe says he simply hired a lawyer to speak with other lawyers that are now involved.

I was surprised to get a response from Kluwe and asked him if he was willing to answer some more questions.  I fully disclosed that, while I respected his punting career and willingness to fight for basic human rights, I also thought his public torching of Priefer made him a hypocrite.  I also told him I thought his assessment of why the Vikings cut ties with him last offseason was off base.

Again, much to my surprise, he obliged.  In fact, his willingness to talk to someone with an opposing viewpoint saw me gain back some of the respect for him that I had lost over the last week.

The first thing I asked Kluwe was why he chose Deadspin as the home for his claims of bigotry and cowardice within the Vikings organization.  Surely he could have done more for his cause, gained even more attention, had he decided to jump on a major news network or have it distributed via a more traditional outlet.

“I could have definitely sold it to a major outlet or gotten a book deal by promising to reveal it, but that’s not what this is about,” Kluwe told me.  “It’s about showing that this type of stuff still happens, and unless we’re willing to confront it, it will keep happening.”

Kluwe also told me that he wanted his various writings to come full circle, back to where his original letter on the issue of gay rights was published, and that he received no money from Deadspin for choosing them.  He never asked for money, he says, and they never offered any.

That original article he references coined the phrase “lustful cockmonster,” among many others, which lies at the root of my issue with Kluwe.  He has never shied away from colorful rhetoric that would surely offend a certain percentage of any population sample in our society. In fact, he’s damn good at it.  So, how is it possible that Kluwe was the one that ended up being offended by over-the-top comments made by Priefer, other than that it was an opinion that differed from his own?

“Um, you literally can’t say stuff like that in the workplace environment, it’s against the law,” he said.  “[Especially] if you’re in a supervisory capacity. Also of note is his tone – at that point I had been around Mike Priefer for almost two years, had had multiple conversations with him, and this was something completely different.”

I asked him if he thought Mike Priefer would actually commit genocide if he had the power and opportunity.

“He was dead serious when he said it,” responded Kluwe.

If you wanted to read every word said or written by Chris Kluwe over the last few days, then you have certainly had your work cut out for you, as it seems like he has found the time to speak with just about every media outlet north of the equator.  With that being said, if you are going to read just one, make sure it is Tom Pelissero’s (we miss you, Tom) one-on-one with Kluwe at USA Today.

Kluwe has not backed down from the allegation he let loose on Deadspin two days ago, insisting that special teams coach Mike Priefer had Kluwe cut due to bigotry.  I think you are all aware that I think Kluwe was cut for other reasons, but I also don’t think Kluwe is a liar.  The Vikings are attempting to find out.

The Vikings announced yesterday that they have returned two big-time lawyers to oversee an investigation.  Their statement:

The Minnesota Vikings have retained two partners of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, L.L.P. to complete an independent review of yesterday’s allegations by Chris Kluwe.

Former Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court Eric Magnuson and former U.S. Department of Justice Trial Attorney Chris Madel will lead the investigation.

“It is extremely important for the Vikings organization to react immediately and comprehensively with an independent review of these allegations,” said Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf.

Magnuson, who is currently a partner at Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, L.L.P. and teaches at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, is highly-regarded in Minnesota and throughout the country. He has more than 35 years of practice, including over two years (2008-10) as the Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Madel is the Chair of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, L.L.P.’s Government and Internal Investigations Group, and has led numerous high-profile investigations, including the extensively publicized internal investigation of the Fiesta Bowl in Phoenix, Arizona. Madel has also been selected as the Minnesota Lawyer’s “Attorney of the Year” for 2011, 2012, and 2013, and is the first attorney to win the award for three consecutive years.

“This is a highly sensitive matter that we as an organization will address with integrity,” said Vikings Vice President of Legal Affairs and Chief Administrative Officer Kevin Warren. “Eric and Chris have stellar reputations in both the local and national legal community. They have handled numerous cases involving a wide range of issues, and we are confident they will move swiftly and fairly in completing this investigation.”

Robins, Kaplan’s investigation has already begun and will include interviews with current and former members of the Vikings organization.

While I understand the need for the Vikings to conduct this investigation, with a major blow to their image hanging in the balance, I personally think this whole thing has gotten a little out of hand.  I think Kluwe is hypocritical and misguided in his assumptions, in his assessment as to why he was cut, and NFL history is all the evidence a courtroom should need to give Priefer the benefit of the doubt.

Last offseason, Kluwe was not the only contract-year player put in a tough spot, especially after Rick Spielman publicly declared his intent to create a youth movement within the Vikings roster.

Kevin Williams was forced to take a paycut and a year off his contract, with Sharrif Floyd being drafted in the first round as his presumptive replacement.  Antoine Winfield was released due to his high salary number and age, with Xavier Rhodes being drafted to help the team try and account for his departure.  Percy Harvin, also entering his contract season, was traded to Seattle with Cordarrelle Patterson being drafted to fill the void left by Harvin both on offense and within Preifer’s return unit.

If you think an NFL punter isn’t replaceable then you haven’t been paying attention.  If you think an expensive, regressing, injured and aging punter can’t isn’t expendable then you really haven’t been paying attention.  Moves are made in professional sports, particularly in the NFL, all the time that resemble exactly what happened to Kluwe.  In fact, more often than not a player is released or traded before his contract is up, that is just part of the business.

Kluwe, a full season after his release, still seems genuinely floored that he wasn’t allowed to play out his contract.

If his surprise is real, then he has certainly not been paying attention.

We know that rookie punter Jeff Locke had very little time to interact with Chris Kluwe before Kluwe was released by the Vikings, and also had very little time to see special teams coordinator Mike Priefer interact with Kluwe.  Blair Walsh, who just finished his second season with the team, did spend a full season working with Kluwe and was presumably around during some of Kluwe’s alleged scenes of verbal abuse and bigotry.

Both Locke and Walsh, however, stood by their coach following Kluwe’s allegations posted at Deadspin.

Locke took to Twitter to lend his support.

“In my short time with the Vikings,” he wrote, “Coach Priefer has treated me with respect and has helped as a player and person.  I have never witnessed any actions or statements by Coach Priefer similar to those described in the recent Deadspin article.

As transcribed by Kevin Seifert at ESPNWalsh was a little more combative with his words, and it looks like he may be a tad upset with his former holder.

“I have had countless conversations and interactions with coach Priefer, and I personally can attest to his integrity and character,” Walsh said in a statement he released directly to reporters. “His professionalism in the workplace is exemplary, and I firmly believe that my teammates would whole-heartedly agree. The allegations made today are reprehensible and totally not compatible with what Mike Priefer stands for. …

“In my time here at Minnesota, Rick Spielman and Leslie Frazier have exemplified true leadership. Contrary to Chris’ statements, they have promoted a workplace environment that was conducive for success. At no time did I ever feel suppressed or that I could not be myself.

“I firmly stand behind Rick Spielman, Leslie Frazier, and Mike Priefer.”

Some will aplaude Kluwe’s bravery for posting the article and exposing his coach.  Others will say Walsh and Locke were brave for standing up for their coach despite certain criticism from a significant portion of society.  The debate is sure to be emotional and heated.  Kluwe, however, reiterated on Thursday night that he is not worried about the fallout while talking with Chip Scoggins at the Star Tribune.

“It’s one of those things where this is what happened,” he said.  “I realize there will be people that say, ‘This is just sour grapes. He’s upset that he got cut.’”

 

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