Vikings settle differences with Kluwe
By Chris Tomasson
St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS — Chris Kluwe and the Vikings finalized a settlement Tuesday that ended the 7½-month saga surrounding the punter, who had accused the team of releasing him in May 2013 because of his outspoken support of same-sex marriage.
The settlement, reached late last week and put in writing early this week, results in the Vikings making donations to five LGBT groups over the next five years. The amount the team will provide was not released, but Kluwe will receive no money.
Kluwe’s lawyer, Clayton Halunen, called the agreement “historic” and “game-changing” because he believes it’s the first time a pro sports team has made this sort of commitment to the LGBT community.
“I hope we can all move on to our lives now and enjoy playing football,” Kluwe said Tuesday at Halunen’s downtown Minneapolis office. “The agreement is fine. … This will help a lot of people. … I think this will make a difference in the upcoming years.”
In a first-person article published in January on the website deadspin.com, Kluwe accused the Vikings of releasing him because of his outspoken views on same-sex marriage. He also said special teams coordinator Mike Priefer made homophobic remarks during the 2012 season.
A six-month investigation by the team, conducted by independent area attorneys, concluded that Kluwe was let go strictly for football reasons. But Priefer was suspended for the first three games of the season after acknowledging he made one inappropriate comment in a position meeting.
The investigation produced a 150-page report, but the Vikings released an abridged version of 29 pages. Kluwe and Halunen initially insisted the entire report be released but are no longer pursuing that.
Halunen said he had access to the full report during settlement talks, and that it didn’t offer anything significant that wasn’t in the summary.
As part of the settlement, the Vikings will set up sensitivity training for all employees, adopt a no-tolerance policy on discrimination and plan to host a symposium in the Twin Cities next spring that deals with LGBT issues. Plans for the symposium include invitations to Michael Sam, who in May became the first openly gay player to be drafted by the NFL, openly gay tennis star Billie Jean King and Kluwe.
“We appreciate Chris Kluwe’s contributions to the Minnesota Vikings as a player and a member of this organization during his eight seasons in which he established many team records as our punter, and we wish him and his family the best in the future,” Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said in a statement. “In regards to this matter, our focus remains on maintaining a culture of tolerance, inclusion and respect, and creating the best workplace environment for our players, coaches and staff.”
Halunen said early this month that he was considering a lawsuit seeking damages in excess of $10 million, but the sides continued to negotiate a settlement. They met Aug. 6 and last Thursday, with talks mediated by retired judge Rick Solum.
Kluwe originally wanted the Vikings to donate $1 million to LGBT groups; the Vikings offered $100,000. A confidentiality agreement will keep the final number a secret.
“Everybody knows the numbers we have been talking about over the past seven months. It’s substantial,” Halunen said. “Chris will receive absolutely nothing from this settlement.”
Halunen, who started the case pro bono, declined to say Tuesday whether he received any money.
One of the charities to which the Vikings will contribute is the Matthew Shepard Foundation, run by the parents of a college student beaten and left to die on a Laramie, Wyo., fence in 1998 because he was gay. Another is the You Can Play Project, which has heterosexuals and homosexuals play sports together in an effort to eradicate homophobia.
Three others will be announced later.
“We believe the agreement is historic,” Halunen said. “It’s a first-of-a-kind settlement and we believe it’s a game-changing settlement. And the reason I say that is that no other time in history, to our knowledge, has any professional sports team made such a commitment to changing the way their organization operates. … The Vikings have agreed to implement (action) to change the way homophobia is dealt with in professional sports.’’
Priefer’s suspension can be reduced to two games if he completes sensitivity training during the first two weeks of September, something Vikings executive vice president and chief administrative officer Kevin Warren said isn’t changed by the settlement agreement. Halunen said that in light of the settlement, the way the Vikings move forward with Priefer is “meaningless.”
“I really am looking forward to Chris Kluwe, Clayton and the Vikings’ continuing effort to create positive awareness on LGBT issues, especially in sports,” Warren said.
Kluwe called the settlement a relief.
“What it really came down to is this is not about me; this is about the good we can do for other people,” he said. “The Vikings have shown they’re committed to making change. They’re putting their money where their mouth is.”
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.