The lawyer for former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe on Saturday identified individuals Kluwe has named as witnesses and contended a Vikings official knew before the punter's May 2013 release that Kluwe had accused an assistant coach of making homophobic remarks.
Kluwe's lawyer, Clayton Halunen, told the Pioneer Press that there are text messages from one of the witnesses, kicker Blair Walsh, corroborating Kluwe's allegations.
Kluwe claimed in a first- person article he wrote this month forDeadspin.com that special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer made offensive remarks during the 2012 season and the Vikings released him in May 2013 because of his outspoken views on same-sex marriage. Priefer has denied making the comments, and the Vikings say Kluwe was let go only for football reasons.
After Kluwe's article came out, the team released a statement Jan. 2 that said in part, “The Vikings were made aware of Chris Kluwe's allegations for the first time today.” Halunen claimed that was “not true” and that Kluwe met with director of player personnel Les Pico to complain about Priefer's alleged remarks shortly before his release.
Team owners Zygi and Mark Wilf released a statement Saturday to the Pioneer Press that read, in part, “Vikings ownership was entirely unaware of Chris Kluwe's allegations prior to the Deadspin article earlier this month.” The statement did not say whether anyone else with the Vikings might have known about Kluwe's allegations before publication of the article.
The Wilfs' statement noted that the Vikings “immediately following the release of that story” launched an investigation. The independent investigation is being headed by high-profile lawyers Eric Magnuson and Chris Madel.
In a five-hour meeting Friday with investigators, Halunen said Kluwe identified Walsh and long snapper Cullen Loeffler as witnesses to Priefer allegedly making homophobic comments numerous times during the 2012 season in meetings with 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 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.”
In Walsh's 219-word statement, he didn't specifically say Priefer did not make the remarks.But he said in the statement that he has had “countless conversations and interactions with Coach Priefer, and I personally can attest to his integrity and character.” Walsh's statement also said “the allegations made (by Kluwe) are reprehensible and totally not compatible with what Mike Priefer stands for.”Pico and Priefer declined comment Saturday. A source said Pico has retained an attorney.
Messages left for Walsh and Loeffler were not returned.
Kluwe wrote in a text message that he had no comment on Saturday's developments and had “promised not to comment on the investigation while it's still ongoing.”
“We were retained to follow the facts wherever they lead,” Madel said of Halunen speaking out Saturday. “There is a major difference between disclosing these identities now versus after our investigation has been completed. I'm extremely disappointed that Mr. Kluwe's lawyer has decided to make statements that appear designed to negatively impact our search for the truth.”
Halunen said if Walsh, Loeffler and Pico deny during the investigation having knowledge of Priefer's alleged homophobic remarks, Kluwe would consider legal action due to his client wanting to protect his integrity. Halunen said the three then would be under oath, unlike during the investigation.
The Wilfs' statement said there already have been “interviews with nearly two dozen current and former Vikings employees.” A source said Saturday that Walsh, Loeffler and Pico have not yet been interviewed.
Halunen said Walsh and Loeffler were “innocent bystanders” and never made any comments similar to what Priefer is alleged to have said. Halunen said Pico was supportive when Kluwe went to him, along with Loeffler, to complain about Priefer's alleged comments, and there was a belief they would then be looked into further by the team.
Halunen said the meeting with Pico took place between April 27, 2013, when the Vikings drafted punter Jeff Locke, Kluwe's eventual replacement, and nine days later on May 6, when Kluwe was released. He said Kluwe met with Pico when he could see “the writing on the wall” regarding his future with the team.
“That we have a problem on our hands, that this is not acceptable, that Priefer's comments were not acceptable,” Halunen said about what Kluwe told Pico in the meeting. “He met with (Pico) and Cullen in the same meeting, where they discussed the inappropriateness of the comments.”
Halunen said Pico's reaction was that he disapproved of what Priefer allegedly said, but that “no action was taken” by the Vikings. Halunen said Loeffler came to the meeting to corroborate what Priefer allegedly had said and that Kluwe had wanted Loeffler to sign an affidavit but that Loeffler didn't.
Halunen said Kluwe was “very disappointed” when Walsh's statement came out and that “they were friends.” Halunen said it is still being investigated as to whether there might be anything written by Loeffler or Pico regarding Kluwe's claims.
Halunen said he believes the Vikings will end up contending that what Priefer said was a joke. But Halunen said the alleged homophobic comments were serious and were made numerous times. Halunen said they did not start until Kluwe began to speak out shortly before the 2012 season about his opposition to a since-defeated Minnesota amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage in the state.
“(The Vikings) may claim that this was said as a joke, but that's not the case,” Halunen said. “They were very serious. It was very angry. This is not one comment. We have evidence of many comments ongoing for a period (of a few months) on a weekly basis that Priefer would make.”
Halunen said the investigation is expected to take another month. Priefer remains under contract, and former defensive backs coach Joe Woods said earlier in the week that it's his understanding Priefer will remain with the team under new coach Mike Zimmer, who was hired to replace the fired Leslie Frazier.
“At the end of the investigation, that will be very problematic for us,” Halunen said of the possibility of Priefer staying with the Vikings. “Then there would have to be litigation.”