Mike Priefer, the special teams coach for the NFL's Minnesota Vikings, said he "vehemently" denies allegations made Thursday by former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, who called the coach a "bigot" and said he created a homophobic locker room environment and used antigay slurs after Kluwe began speaking out in support of marriage equality in 2012.
"I vehemently deny today’s allegations made by Chris Kluwe," Priefer said in a statement reported Thursday at NBC Sports. "I want to be clear that I do not tolerate discrimination of any type and am respectful of all individuals. I personally have gay family members who I love and support just as I do any family member."
Kluwe's allegations, made in a lengthy editorial published Thursday at Deadspin, include detailed accounts of what Kluwe called tense, hateful outbursts inside the locker room.
In one November 2012 instance, Kluwe recalls Priefer saying "in one of the meanest voices I can ever recall hearing … 'We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.'" Kluwe's account notes that several other members of the Vikings special teams were in that meeting, though none have yet spoken out to corroborate or deny Kluwe's allegations.
The Minnesota Vikings management released a statement Thursday denying Kluwe's accusations that Priefer and the team's former head coach, Leslie Frazier, created a homophobic environment, while also rejecting Kluwe's claim that he was fired in part for his pro-LGBT activism. The statement says Vikings management was "made aware of Chris Kluwe’s allegations for the first time" Thursday and takes them "very seriously, and will thoroughly review this matter."
"We do not tolerate discrimination at any level," continues the statement. "The team has long respected our players’ and associates’ individual rights, and, as Chris specifically stated, Vikings ownership supports and promotes tolerance, including on the subject of marriage equality. … Any notion that Chris was released from our football team due to his stance on marriage equality is entirely inaccurate and inconsistent with team policy. Chris was released strictly based on his football performance."
State senator Scott Dibble, one of the gay sponsors of the state's newly enacted marriage equality legislation, called on the Vikings to launch a full and impartial investigation into the claims Kluwe made.
"Kluwe’s allegations raise very serious concerns about the culture within the Minnesota Vikings organization," said Dibble, a Democrat from Minneapolis, in a statement Thursday. "I am encouraged to some degree by the team's statement in response, but the charges warrant a thorough investigation. If shown to be true, decisive action must be taken."
On Friday, the Vikings management did just that, announcing it had retained two high-profile attorneys to lead an independent investigation into Kluwe's allegations. The Vikings hired former chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court Eric Magnuson, and former U.S. Department of Justice trial attorney Chris Madel to lead the investigation, says the statement.
"It is extremely important for the Vikings organization to react immediately and comprehensively with an independent review of these allegations," said Vikings owner and president Mark Wilf in Friday's remarks.
While Kluwe's former teammates have yet to weigh in on his allegations of a homophobic environment, one former NFL star who is speaking out to support Kluwe's claims that he was fired because of his pro-LGBT activism is Brendon Ayanbadejo, a former linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens who also supports marriage equality. Kluwe famously came to Ayanbadejo's defense when a Maryland legislator called for Ayanbadejo's censure after the linebacker came out for the freedom to marry.
In a video with TMZ Sports posted Thursday, Ayanbadejo said Kluwe is "100 percent right" in his claim that he was released from the Vikings last year as a result of his activism.
"I've been saying it all along," said Ayanbadejo. "It's a pretty jacked up situation. … Even though the NFL tries to keep you in a box in terms of your philanthropy, [Kluwe] went out there and he did what he thought was right. Would he be in the league today if he had continued to go speak at schools about education or fitness, or if he continued to do hunger drives, or cancer awareness type of stuff? Yeah, he'd probably still be in the NFL, but Chris did what was right for him."
In closing his editorial Thursday, Kluwe acknowledged that by speaking out about the treatment he endured, he was effectively ending his professional football career. But he had a larger motive.
"If there's one thing I hope to achieve from sharing this story, it's to make sure that Mike Priefer never holds a coaching position again in the NFL, and ideally never coaches at any level," wrote Kluwe. "It's inexcusable that someone would use his status as a teacher and a role model to proselytize on behalf of his own doctrine of intolerance, and I hope he never gets another opportunity to pass his example along to anyone else."