Priefer’s stint with the Vikings is also noteworthy for a two-game suspension in 2014, after an outside investigation determined that there was “credibility” to a former player’s accusation that he once said, “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.”
That accusation was made by ex-punter Chris Kluwe in a January 2014 essay he wrote for Deadspin in which he claimed that his advocacy for same-sex marriage probably led to his release the previous year by Minnesota after eight seasons with the team. Kluwe wrote that, in addition to the “nuke” comment, Priefer’s other remarks on the topic included: disgust at the thought of two men kissing; belittling “any idea of acceptance or tolerance”; and claiming more than once that the punter would “wind up burning in hell with the gays.”
Hours after Kluwe’s essay was published, Priefer issued a statement in which he “vehemently” denied the allegations.
“I want to be clear that I do not tolerate discrimination of any type and am respectful of all individuals. I personally have gay family members who I love and support just as I do any family member,” Priefer said in his statement. “The primary reason I entered coaching was to affect people in a positive way. As a coach, I have always created an accepting environment for my players, including Chris, and have looked to support them both on and off the field.”
The Vikings hired a pair of attorneys to investigate Kluwe’s allegations about Priefer’s comments and the reasons for the punter’s release. In a July 2014 report they noted that the team’s long snapper at the time, Cullen Loeffler, told them he also heard Priefer talk about “putting all the gays on an island and nuking it.” For the attorneys, that provided an important piece of corroboration, although they wrote that no other witnesses they interviewed recalled hearing any remarks of that nature by Priefer.
The report also stated that the special teams coach initially denied to investigators that he made any inappropriate remarks about the LGBTQ community or marriage equality, and that he “categorically denied” making the “nuke” comment. However, when presented with Loeffler’s recollection, Priefer said he was “not going to disagree with it.”
At that point, per the report, Priefer told investigators, “It was a joke between three people, three men.”
In announcing a three-game suspension for Priefer, the Vikings said their organization “does not accept, condone or tolerate any type of insensitive or disparaging remarks.” Priefer expressed “regret” at the time, and he added, “I am extremely sorry, but I will learn from this situation and will work on educating others to create more tolerance and respect.”
The Vikings also noted then that the ban could be reduced to two games if Priefer attended sensitivity training, and when he was reinstated after the first two weeks of the 2014 season, the team said it was informed that he had been “fully and thoughtfully engaged throughout the process and successfully completed the [training] program.”
At his introductory news conference with the Browns in February 2019, Priefer addressed his suspension, telling reporters (via cleveland.com), “A situation occurred in Minnesota where I made a comment I shouldn’t have made. I apologized for that comment.
“And I learned a lot from it,” he continued. “What I learned is that you can’t say hurtful things about people, period. No matter where you are or who you are talking to.”
Priefer, who was born in Cleveland, noted at that news conference that he grew up in Northeast Ohio. He went on to attend the U.S. Naval Academy, where he began his coaching career after serving as an officer for six years, including tours of duty in the Persian Gulf and in the Mediterranean Sea. According to his team bio, he also earned a master’s degree from the University of Maryland.
After cutting his teeth as a graduate assistant with Navy, Priefer’s first coaching jobs were at the college level, including a brief stint at Virginia Military Institute, before he was hired in 2002 by the Jacksonville Jaguars to assist with their special teams. He held the same role with the New York Giants the following three years, then oversaw special teams for the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos.
Now Priefer has been tasked with leading the Browns to a victory on the road in their first postseason appearance in 18 years. The team hasn’t won a playoff game since 1995, when then-head coach Bill Belichick defeated Bill Parcells and the New England Patriots.
Asked on Twitter on Tuesday for his thoughts on Priefer’s sudden assignment, Kluwe said, “I’m sure he will continue the fine tradition of Cleveland’s postseason success and I wish him the best while doing so.”