Chris Kluwe plans to sue the Minnesota Vikings. In a post written for Deadspin entitled “I Was An NFL Player Until I Was Fired By Two Cowards And A Bigot,” which was published on Jan. 2, Kluwe was unequivocal in his assertion that at least part of the reason the Vikings cut him in May of 2013 was because of his willingness to do interviews and ads in which he advocated for gay rights. According to Kluwe, former coach Leslie Frazier and current GM Rick Spielman pressured him to pipe down, and Kluwe was actively harassed due to his views by special teams coach Mike Priefer, whom Kluwe alleges once said “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island and then nuke it until it glows.”
Predictably, the Vikings launched an internal investigation shortly after Deadspin ran Kluwe’s post. One presumes they talked to current and former players and coaches about whether they think Priefer is homophobic and if he had made any anti-gay remarks in their presence. The team likely also looked into why Kluwe was cut and whether his firing was due to his on-field performance, his outspokenness or something else. We have to guess at what the process looked like because the Vikings won’t release their findings, to Kluwe nor to the media. Priefer hasn’t been dismissed or suspended, so apparently, the team’s official stance is that he didn’t do anything wrong.
Kluwe is threatening a lawsuit more or less in an effort to introduce sunshine to the investigation. (If he goes forward with the suit, the report would become available through the discovery process.) He said as much in a press conference held on Tuesday morning. Kluwe’s contention is that the Vikings promised him they would give him a copy of the finished report in exchange for his participation in the investigation, and they’ve now reneged on that promise. (The Vikings, for their part, claim they never came to any sort of agreement with Kluwe.) In retaliation, he’s going forward with a suit that contends, among other things, that he was wrongfully terminated, discriminated against and defamed by the Vikings.
Unless you’re inclined to believe that Chris Kluwe is an egomaniac who’s trying to shame his former employer in a profoundly ugly way, this doesn’t look good for the Vikings. If the report utterly exonerates everyone involved except Kluwe, why won’t they let him read it? For that matter, it’s understandable for them to not want to reveal to the general public intimate details of their internal affairs, but why can’t they release at least some exculpatory aspects of the report to the media? The reasonable conclusion to draw from this is not necessarily that Priefer is a raging bigot — though, sure, that might be true — but that there’s something in the report that makes the Vikings seem incompetent, intolerant or evil.
The strange thing about this is that last option is highly unlikely. It’s hard to imagine there’s something in the Vikings’ report that indicates they were and are still staffed by a bunch of homophobic jerks who were hellbent on silencing Kluwe. Not even Kluwe believes that. In “I Was An NFL Player,” he argues that Priefer is truly awful, but that Frazier and Spielman were cowardly, not malicious. He wanted Priefer to be fired, and for the Vikings to take a collective look in the mirror. He knew he was blowing the whistle on a jerk coach, not Watergate.
I don’t think the Vikings’ report says that Priefer is a swell guy and that the matter of Kluwe’s firing wasn’t mishandled at all. I think Priefer said those things Kluwe claims he said, because I don’t think Kluwe would tell a horrible lie about an ex-employer out of spite. That the Vikings aren’t even giving their findings to Kluwe suggests that there’s something damning in those documents. But I’m just making assumptions based on the available evidence. The team could give us actual information, and then we wouldn’t all have to make educated guesses. Until then, history has taught us we should be highly suspicious when an entity as large as an NFL team doesn’t want us to see something. We should assume extreme guilt. Perhaps that will persuade the Vikings to prove us wrong.