If you missed it (and the team hopes you did), the Vikings suspended special-team coordinator Mike Priefer three games as part of a Friday night news dump that included a 29-page memo analyzing the investigation sparked by the complaints of former punter Chris Kluwe.
The memo, which takes shots at Kluwe for making light of the Sandusky situation and which prompted Kluwe to make some strong allegations of player misconduct on Twitter, explains that Priefer denied making a particularly unfortunate comment about putting gays on an island and “nuking” it when first interviewed in early January. Preifer later admitted it in May, after being confronted with corroboration of Kluwe’s contention from long snapper Cullen Loeffler.
Between the first and second interview, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer decided to retain Priefer as special-teams coordinator. As our pal Ross Tucker noted on Twitter, the Vikings could have simply hired someone else to handle the special teams, as most new head coaches do. Besides, if Kluwe’s activism on gay rights created an undesirable distraction, the ongoing presence of a special-teams coordinator who has become the target of allegations of homophobic comments makes him an unwanted distraction, too.
In most employment disputes, the manager accused of wrongdoing doesn’t get fired unless the preliminary investigation points unmistakably to conduct so heinous that it’s impossible to keep the manager employed. Far more often, the company embraces the accused because the company needs the accused to cooperate — and to not be disgruntled.
If the Vikings had fired Priefer, who knows what he would have said to investigators? By talking to him in early January, Priefer’s initial interview was even more likely to reflect favorably on the team because the head coach had been fired but Priefer’s fate had not yet been determined. If the Vikings had decided to move on from Priefer and if Priefer had been interviewed after the fact, maybe Priefer would have shared details about discussions leading to Kluwe’s release without the kind of care and precision that would keep those comments from being regarded as proof that he was cut because of his support of gay rights.
It’s possible, then, that Kluwe may have done Priefer a huge favor, keeping Priefer employed for as long as Kluwe’s anticipated lawsuit lasts.
Yes, that’s a very cynical view of how business gets done, especially in an industry so driven by results. Still, litigation and the threat of it creates a distinct bunker mentality in any organization, with folks who otherwise would be left unprotected getting one of the best seats in the house for as long as the threat lasts.
In hindsight, it would have made more sense for Kluwe to delay his January 2 Deadspin essay by a few weeks. If new coach Mike Zimmer had fired Priefer before Kluwe made his claims, Priefer quite possibly would have been giving his version of the events with a far different agenda and perspective as, like Kluwe, someone who had been fired by the Vikings.