Nuke It Until It Glows

And the Rest of the Worst of Minnesota Sports Media in 2014

It didn’t take long in 2014 to get to the first bombshell sports story. On January 2, former Minnesota Vikigns punter Chris Kluwe dropped the explosive essay “I Was An NFL Player Until I Was Fired By Two Cowards And A Bigot” on Deadspin. In the article, Kluwe made a series of allegations against members of the Vikings organization, specifically:

  • When Kluwe went public with his activism, then-head coach Leslie Frazier told Kluwe to keep quiet about the issue. Kluwe and Frazier had an additional meeting on this topic, and later, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman told Kluwe to “fly under the radar” regarding some comments Kluwe had made about the Catholic Church.
  • Most explosively, Kluwe said that special teams coordinator Mike Priefer — in the wake of Kluwe’s activism on the marriage equality issue — used homophobic language on several occasions during the 2012 season. Priefer allegedly told Kluwe he would burn in hell, and at one point he is accused of saying, “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.”
  • Kluwe believes that his activism was a critical factor in his replacement as Vikings punter, as his performance was little changed from previous years

The Priefer allegations were the ones that proved to be most contentious, and the day Kluwe’s article was released, Priefer gave an unconditional denial of Kluwe’s charges:

I vehemently deny today’s allegations made by Chris Kluwe. … The comments today have not only attacked my character and insulted my professionalism, but they have also impacted my family. While my career focus is to be a great professional football coach, my number one priority has always been to be a protective husband and father to my wife and children.

Meanwhile, there were those who leaped to Priefer’s defense. KFAN radio host and Vikings radio play-by-play guy Paul Allen, who had promoted Priefer as a possible replacement for Frazier, fired off a series of Tweets backing Priefer.  Then-ESPN1500 host Jeff Dubay also leaped to attack Kluwe, going so far as to compare Kluwe’s support of marriage equality to a “Nazi mentality”.

The Vikings, to their credit, hired an outside firm to conduct an investigation.  The results of the investigation, in fact, largely backed up Kluwe’s claims — Priefer did at least on one occasion make homophobic remarks, and many prominent members of the organization tried to squash Kluwe’s activism.

Media accounts of the report’s release, though, largely danced around these essential facts.  Instead, they focused on Priefer’s three-game suspension (what effect will it have on the team?) and jokes of questionable taste told by Kluwe in the locker room uncovered in the investigation (hey, look, he made a Penn State joke!). The false equivocation of Kluwe telling lewd jokes in a group setting of peers and superiors to having one’s boss make homophobic comments directed at a subordinate is a real media fail that warps the traditional understanding of how a workplace should operate.

More to the point, no one in the traditional media frankly pointed out what was made clear — that Priefer had told a baldfaced lie in his initial statement in January and continued to do so in the interviews done as part of the investigation until confronted by multiple other accounts from players that did hear him say those things, and yet many in the organization (including new head coach Mike Zimmer) were still standing on claims about Priefer’s impeccable-except-for-that-one-time character:

“I’ve had a chance to visit with Mike Priefer on numerous occasions, almost every single day, to find out what kind of person he is,” Zimmer said. “I knew his father. I know what kind of family guy he is. He made a mistake. So I just go by what I see; I don’t go by what I hear.”

And having escaped with a slap on the wrist (a three-game suspension that was ultimately reduced to two), Priefer demonstrated that he understood the real problem, at least from a football perspective:

I made a mistake. I was wrong. I brought a lot of undue attention to the Minnesota Vikings organization and brought an unwanted distraction, and I apologize.

When Priefer returned from his suspension, he got the “Happy Days are Here Again” treatment from the locals.  And, for the most part, the same media reporters who were happy to dissect Kluwe’s punting performance (using largely erroneous analysis) have largely looked the other way as many of Priefer’s special teams units took a major step backwards in 2014.  Kicker Blair Walsh had the worst season of his career, misfiring on nine of 35 field goal attempts to have the lowest field-goal percentage of any regular kicker in the league. Punter Jeff Locke had a lower net punting average despite the Vikings punt coverage improving slightly. And the kickoff return and punt return teams saw drops in their average returns of three and four yards, respectively.

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Here are some of the other prominent sports media misfires of the year:

  • Adrian Peterson: The Strib did a very detailed investigative piece that laid bare the very real problems — six children by six different women, a charitable foundation that didn’t do much for charity, and other questionable behavior — three weeks after Peterson’s indictment on child abuse charges. But there’s been scant follow-up on the charity portion of the story, which is begging for more investigation. And the question of Peterson’s other activities had equal newsworthiness before Peterson was charged with a crime (especially after the death of one of Peterson’s children in South Dakota in 2013 when it was revealed that Peterson didn’t meet the child until he was on its deathbed). But no one, seemingly, asked the questions.  Comments made by Zimmer this week might lead us to believe that the head coach would like to go down the Priefer route regarding Peterson’s future in the organization. How hard will the media push on the parallels (and differences) in the two cases?
  • Jim Souhan on the “coddling” of Joe Mauer:  The Strib columnist uncorked a doozy following the hiring of Paul Molitor as manager, suggesting that the new skipper would need to get tough with Mauer and force him to play through more injuries.  Now, there’s plenty of reasons to be upset with Mauer over his production — but, let’s be clear. The problem with Mauer isn’t that he’s soft, it’s that he’s injury prone. Two different things. When you look at what Mauer has gone on the disabled list for in his career, they’re all legitimate injuries.  It also should be pointed out that a major problem the Twins organization has had in recent years is players attempting to play through injuries when in fact they are too hurt to play.  In 2014 alone, the Twins saw Glen Perkins, Ricky Nolasco, and Chris Colabello stink it up for weeks trying to gut out injuries instead of taking the time to heal and play effectively.
  • Jerry Zgoda doesn’t understand the salary cap: The Strib’s Timberwolves beat scribe admitted in an August 25 online chat that he doesn’t understand how the NBA salary cap works. In a league where transactions (particularly for the perpetually-rebuilding clubs like the Wolves) are often done more for their cap ramifications than on-court impact, this is inexcusable.
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