Vikings special teams coach expresses regret for homophobic comments
MANKATO, Minn — Vikings special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer expressed remorse Thursday about making a homophobic comment two years ago that landed him a three-game suspension to start the 2014 NFL season.
“I’ve failed,” Priefer said.
Former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe alleged in a first-person article in January for Deadspin.com that Priefer made multiple homophobic comments during the 2012 season, and that Kluwe was later released because of his outspoken views on same-sex marriage.
After a six-month investigation, the Vikings on July 18 announced Priefer’s suspension for making one comment. The team also said the investigation determined Kluwe was let go for football reasons only.
Priefer issued a statement July 18 apologizing but spoke to reporters about the incident for the first time Thursday as the Vikings reported for training camp at Minnesota State Mankato.
“I like to set a higher standard for myself, a higher standard of conduct,” Priefer said. “With my comment, I’ve failed. I didn’t just go below the bar, I went way below the bar. I made a mistake. I was wrong. I brought a lot of undue attention to the Minnesota Vikings organization and brought an unwanted distraction, and I apologize.”
Priefer “vehemently” denied Kluwe’s allegation in January, and again denied it in the first of three interviews during the investigation. In the second, he admitted to making one homophobic comment.
On Thursday, Priefer mostly sidestepped the question of whether he wished he had told the truth in the first place, saying he “did speak to the appropriate individuals and I cooperated.”
Priefer also sidestepped a question about Kluwe alleging he made more than one homophobic remark. Priefer stressed multiple times he made a mistake in uttering the comment that got him suspended.
“The biggest thing I regret is I brought a lot of bad publicity to the Minnesota Vikings and I feel like I let my family down,” Priefer said. “I know I let some people down. I know I’ve embarrassed the organization a little bit, and that’s something that’s obviously the worst thing for me.
“I learned a hard lesson. I’ve got to be sensitive to other people in what I say, and that’s not going to happen again.”
Priefer said he expects to complete sensitivity training during the first week of the regular season, which can reduce his suspension to two games.
General manager Rick Spielman said Priefer can’t enter the building or have any contact with the team during his suspension and won’t be paid. He said the team will determine whether Priefer’s sensitivity training, which will be conducted by an outside firm, will result in a reduced suspension.
Priefer will miss at least the Sept. 7 game at St. Louis and Sept. 14 game at home against New England. The soonest he can return is Sept. 21 at New Orleans.
Spielman said the Vikings haven’t decided how to replace Priefer during his absence. He didn’t rule out bringing in an interim special-teams coordinator. Using special teams assistant Ryan Ficken is another option.
Spielman said he was disappointed Priefer did not initially acknowledge his comment, and that he has talked to him about it. He didn’t answer directly when asked if he considered firing Priefer.
“I think Mike is very remorseful,” Spielman said. “I know he just wants to put this past him. Everybody does make mistakes, but that does not define what Mike Priefer is as a person or as a football coach. He’s admitted, he apologized, he made a mistake and he’ll serve his suspension, and we’re moving forward as a football team.”
Head coach Mike Zimmer, who elected to retain Priefer from the staff of former coach Leslie Frazier, said he stood by Priefer because he regards him as a man of character.
“I’ve had a chance to visit with Mike Priefer on numerous occasions, almost every single day, to find out what kind of person he is,” Zimmer said. “I knew his father. I know what kind of family guy he is. He made a mistake. So I just go by what I see; I don’t go by what I hear.”
Zimmer acknowledged that questions about the investigation Thursday were a “distraction,” but said he expects it will be business as usual when the Vikings begin practicing today.
A six-month investigation run by two Twin Cities attorneys resulted in a 150-page report that remains sealed. Another law firm wrote a 29-page summary of the report for the public.
The summary reports long snapper Cullen Loeffler corroborated Kluwe’s claim that Priefer said, “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it” during a special teams meeting in 2012. Loeffler said Thursday he believed Priefer made the remark in jest.
“I never thought that it was a serious comment,” Loeffler said. “I always thought it was a joke. (Kluwe and Priefer) both laughed about it. I never thought anything about it. … It happened so long ago, I don’t really remember the exact reaction (of Kluwe) other than that he had laughed as well.”
Asked Thursday if he laughed at that comment by Priefer, Kluwe said the Vikings have asked him not to comment while he and his lawyer, Clayton Halunen, continue settlement talks with the Vikings.
Kluwe has threatened to sue the Vikings and Priefer for unfair termination and defamation, among other claims. The suit was ready to be filed Wednesday, but Halunen said he will instead continue talking with the Vikings.
Kluwe and Halunen both want the 150-page report made public.
They contend that kicker Blair Walsh sent text messages to Kluwe also corroborating Kluwe’s claims, but there was no mention of that in the 29-page summary report.
Walsh declined to address that Thursday, saying he talked to investigators and won’t “get into the details about it and talk about what’s true and what’s not true.”
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.