What can Vikings' investigation uncover?

January, 4, 2014
Jan 4
8:00
AM ET
MINNEAPOLIS -- The day after Chris Kluwe alleged that special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer used homophobic slurs during the 2012 season, the Minnesota Vikings were quick to show they mean business.

Kluwe
Kluwe
They ordered an independent review of the allegations, retaining former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson and former U.S. Department of Justice trial attorney Chris Madel to lead the process. That investigation had already begun, as of Friday afternoon, and it could move quickly; Kluwe said he would be happy to work with the investigators, and as he pointed out, the Vikings likely want to get to the bottom of the issue in time for a new coach to decide if Priefer could join his staff.

The attorneys' credentials are also impressive; both have specialized in internal investigations, and Madel (who represented the Vikings in a 2003 sexual assault case) led the 2011 investigation of the Fiesta Bowl for illegal political activities, which led to six guilty pleas. There's little doubt the Vikings are taking things seriously. It's the first time they've done a major investigation since 2006, when former VP of player personnel Fran Foley was fired for having an inaccurate resume. And that investigation was done by team legal counsel, not by independent attorneys. The start of an investigation was a show of serious intent.

But the lingering question after Friday's announcement was this: What, exactly, will the review be able to uncover?

An internal investigation is different from a legal proceeding in the sense that attorneys do not have subpoena power; Magnuson and Madel won't be able to force players to comply with the investigation, or testify under oath to what they might have seen or heard. The Vikings could strongly suggest players cooperate, but without the force of legal action, it will be tough for them to know if they're getting to the bottom of the issue.

"Even if you’re really trying, you can’t force them to talk to you, nor can you force them to say, 'I remember exactly what happened, this is what happened and I was there,'" ESPN legal analyst Roger Cossack said. "You can’t put them under oath; this isn’t a court proceeding. Whether someone comes in and says to you, 'Gee, I don’t know anything about it,' or says, 'I don’t want to talk to you,' you’re pretty much in the same boat."

In an interview on Friday, Kluwe said he didn't have any recordings of Priefer's alleged comments, but had kept written records of the remarks in case he ever needed them and said again he had witnesses he could name if needed. But one of the players who likely would have been in the specialists' meeting that Kluwe referenced in his piece is kicker Blair Walsh, who supported Priefer and slammed Kluwe in a statement he released Thursday. Unless he, or any other player, were to be subpoenaed, would they have any incentive to cooperate fully? Kluwe even admitted on Friday he wasn't surprised to see players come to Priefer's defense, adding that "if what I'm saying is true -- that I was run out of the league for speaking out -- and if they take my side, they would risk falling under that same umbrella. The NFL is not an easy league to get into. I would be surprised if any came to my side, although it would be very gratifying."

It's not out of the question the review could precipitate legal action, either in the form of a discrimination suit from Kluwe or a defamation suit from Priefer. If that were to happen, and attorneys could call players to testify, everything might be put out into the open. As one team source put it on Friday, "I think Chris is hoping it becomes a legal action."

But unless that happens, the Vikings might have a tough time unearthing all the details to corroborate or disprove Kluwe's allegations.

Ben Goessling

ESPN Minnesota Vikings reporter

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