By Paul Walsh and Chris Miller Star Tribune
Chris Kluwe’s battle with the Minnesota Vikings over what he contends was a homophobic atmosphere behind the scenes when he was on the team is intensifying.
The team’s former punter said Tuesday he plans a lawsuit against the team, which he said is “reneging on a promise” to release a copy of its completed investigation of alleged anti-gay sentiments expressed by special teams coach Mike Priefer during the 2012 season.
Kluwe and his attorney, Clayton Halunen, announced at a morning news conference that they will file suit against the Vikings claiming discrimination on the grounds of religion, human rights, defamation and “tortious interference for contractual relations.”
Kluwe said if the Vikings release the report he would reconsider the lawsuit.
Former U.S. Department of Justice attorney Chris Madel and former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, who were lead investigators for the report, issued a statement saying their firm met with Halunen on Monday and “at no time” told him “that the Vikings ‘would not provide a copy of the report to either Kluwe or the public’ as Halunen’s news release of this morning states.”
The Vikings announced they were meeting with Halunen on Thursday.
Halunen said there was previously hope for a monetary settlement to avoid going to court, and that any money awarded to Kluwe would go toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender causes.
“He’s never been in it for the money,” Halunen said.
Kluwe, 32, played eight seasons for the Vikings and holds more than a dozen team punting records. He was released before the 2013 season after the Vikings drafted Jeff Locke and installed the rookie as their new punter. Kluwe ranked 24th in the NFL in 2012, his final season, with a 45.0-yard punting average. Locke was 24th last season at 44.2.
Kluwe first aired his contentions six months ago in an article published on the website Deadspin.com earlier this year. He described Priefer as a “bigot” and accused then head coach Leslie Frazier and General Manager Rick Spielman of releasing him largely based on his social activism, primarily his outspoken support of same-sex marriage.
Among his allegations, Kluwe recalled a remark by Priefer before a special teams meeting in 2012, writing: “As we sat down in our chairs Mike Priefer, in one of the meanest voices I can ever recall hearing, said: ‘We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.’ ”
In January, the Vikings hired Madel and Magnuson to head an independent investigation into Kluwe’s allegations that Priefer and others in the team organization used homophobic slurs and taunts in an effort to quash Kluwe’s public support for gay marriage rights.
Kluwe also has alleged that he lost his job with the Vikings before the 2013 season for vocally supporting gay rights. Priefer denied the charges and the Vikings have stood behind him, allowing him to stay on under new coach Mike Zimmer.
Halunen said the report “is the first thing I would get the course of discovery. This will be made public. It’s just going to be delayed for a short time. And if I get it, I will make it public.”
Said Kluwe: “The Vikings said for seven months they were going to make this public, which I think is important. Sweeping it under the rug and keeping the report private isn’t right.”
DFL State Sen. Scott Dibble of Minneapolis, instrumental in making same-sex marriage legal in Minnesota, said in a letter Tuesday to Vikings owner Zygi Wilf that he’s troubled by media reports that the investigation’s results are being withheld “because they may be embarrassing to the Vikings organization.”
Dibble, who pointed out in his letter that the new Vikings stadium is being built with significant taxpayer funding from the public, also told Wilf that “I expect your organization to release the results of the investigation, that decisive action be taken against those responsible, and that strong steps be taken to implement internal cultural and policy changes, should [Kluwe’s] claims be found credible.”
Kluwe, who was with Oakland in training camp in 2013 before being cut, does not believe he will get another chance to play football.
“Writing the Deadspin piece pretty much ensured I will never play in the NFL again,” Kluwe said.
Moments before Kluwe’s news conference was to start, the Vikings posted a response on their website saying, the team has taken the independent “investigative materials” and is having them evaluated by a law firm that specializes in employment matters. The team added that the firm will provide “findings and recommendations” to the Vikings sometime this week.