Vikings choose the hard road with Kluwe
July, 19, 2014
By Ben Goessling | ESPN.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings were scheduled to pay Chris Kluwe $1.45 million in 2013. They paid his replacement, Jeff Locke, $451,048, saving themselves nearly $1 million with a decision that, according to the summary of a six-month investigation released Friday night, most of their decision-makers felt was necessary to upgrade their performance at the position.
As the former punter and his attorney, Clayton Halunen, put it Friday, they offered the Vikings the following nonnegotiable terms to settle Kluwe's dispute with the team after the investigation into his allegations against special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer:
- The team would make the entire 150-page report public, excepting the thousands of citations and footnotes -- some of which contained sensitive personal information -- from investigator Chris Madel's interviews with Vikings players and employees.
- The Vikings would suspend Priefer without pay for four to eight games for his homophobic remarks and require him to attend sensitivity training.
- Lastly, the Vikings would donate $1 million to charities supporting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender-friendly causes.
Halunen might have put additional stipulations on a settlement other than the ones he and Kluwe detailed in interviews Friday night. And it's safe to assume the relationship between the parties was frayed by the end of the process, which couldn't have steered negotiations in a productive direction. But if those terms are correct and complete, it means the Vikings walked away from a settlement -- and goaded Kluwe into threatening a lawsuit -- over a $900,000 difference in the donation amount, a one-game difference in Priefer's suspension and a decision to release a 29-page report on the investigation from a law firm they hired to review it rather than the original, independent report itself.
That seems like a minuscule difference for the Vikings to cover to make the episode go away relatively quietly. Instead, six days before players report to training camp for the first time under new coach Mike Zimmer, the Vikings had a former player threatening a lawsuit and taking to Twitter to detail all the unseemly things he could divulge during that process. The Vikings should know Kluwe well enough by now to realize he's not one to back down, and they decided to provoke him when a little more transparency and contrition might have dispatched the whole thing. From a strictly legal perspective, they might be on solid footing; they've already reprimanded Priefer, and Halunen would have a hard time disproving the Vikings' claim that they cut Kluwe for performance reasons only. We've heard the full report, if released, will contain more material that paints Kluwe in an unflattering light, and Halunen seemed aware of that possibility Friday, after the initial summary included stories of Kluwe's bawdy locker room humor.
"I know there are things in there that are not flattering to my client," Halunen said. "He made jokes every once in a while. I know they’re going to be there."
But doesn't it worry the Vikings that, knowing all this, Kluwe seems intent on charging forward into the muck anyway?
Even the punter sounded perplexed, and slightly bemused, when discussing it Friday evening. "There was a reason I released the original Deadspin piece [on Jan. 2], so it would get handled at the best time of the year," Kluwe said. "The whole goal [was] to avoid this being handled in the football season. It's the same story going into the football season. It shouldn't be."
The Vikings could be standing on principles, or they could be trying to push Kluwe to the brink, hoping he'll accept a less favorable settlement over a protracted legal battle. But let's say players get asked to give depositions, or are even called to testify in court. Is that process -- and the possible PR hit -- worth the risk for the team?
If it's not, it's certainly tantalizing to ask why the Vikings passed on an opportunity to avoid it for roughly the sum of what they'll pay a backup defensive lineman this season. Or, slightly less than what they saved by keeping a rookie punter over a veteran who was about to become a very big thorn in their side.