Management, Players Respond to Charges

The focus Thursday at Winter Park was on legal matters, as four Vikings were charged with misdemeanors in connection with the infamous "Love Boat" incident. Management responded with a press conference and a few players commented on the distraction.

Players and management spent Thursday answering questions about the misdemeanor charges filed against four Vikings – quarterback Daunte Culpepper, cornerback Fred Smoot, tackle Bryant McKinnie and running back Moe Williams – in connection with the Vikings' infamous boat party on Lake Minnetonka.

Each of those players was charged with indecent conduct, disorderly conduct and lewd and lascivious conduct. All three are misdemeanors. Police accounts of the incident from eyewitnesses describe lap dances, oral sex in public and sex toys being used in public.

"I can assure you as an organization we take these charges very, very seriously and we find the charges and allegations also very disturbing," said Kevin Warren, the Vikings vice president of operations and legal counsel. "The Vikings organization will respond with its own disciplinary action following the conclusion of both the formal investigation … and also the conclusion of the legal process."

The trials are set to begin until January.

The team's discipline could include fines, suspensions and other penalties, Warren said. The maximum penalty in the public court case is 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine per charge.

"If you've spent any time with Zygi Wilf, Mark Wilf, Lenny Wilf or any of the other ownership partners, you know that they have set high standards for this organization, both on and off the field," Warren said.

The charges were filed six months and one day after the closing of the sale of the team from Red McCombs to the Zygi Wilf ownership group.

Since that time, the Vikings have hired Warren, Dag Sohlberg as the director of security, Les Pico as the director of player development and instituted a 77-page code of conduct that has now been signed off on by every member of the organization, including staff and players, Warren said.

The feeling was that the franchise had cut too much staff and resources over the final years of the McCombs ownership group. Since taking charge of team, Wilf has tried to institute a professional atmosphere that stresses a long-term commitment to the performance of the team on the field and in the community.

Wilf has also continued the franchise's efforts to secure public financing for a stadium. That will resume when the legislative session commences on March 1, 2006. Lester Bagley, vice president of public affairs, said the team received some initial negative feedback from local politicians when the allegations were made public in early October, but he also said Wilf has met with many of them since and showed them his commitment to righting the franchise.

"There was some initial feedback when the reports first came out that we needed to pay attention to our own house before we went over there and asked for public participation. But I think the actions that the ownership and management has taken, Zygi has met a lot of political leaders and they know he's a serious, genuine person," Bagley said. "This happened under his watch, but there were a lot of things in this organization that were deficient in a lot of areas. I think his comments and reaction to the events were that he takes it seriously."

Warren said the Vikings were requested not to conduct their own investigation and did not because they didn't want the possibility of tainting the FBI or Hennepin County investigation. Players who were being sought for questioning were encouraged to cooperate by the Vikings, but Warren said those involved retained their own legal counsel.

The league's personal conduct policy states the NFL would take action if a conviction or admission of a crime takes place. Wilf's response could go above and beyond the league's action.

"He will do the right and ethical and honorable thing. … Regardless of the time when the court proceedings are concluded, Zygi Wilf will do the right thing and take the appropriate action at that point and time," Warren said.

"He will take the actions, penalties, suspension, fines or whatever based on what he feels is necessary. And if it means it's a standard higher than the NFL, so be it."

In the locker room, the few players who commented on the incident Thursday spoke in general terms.

"Anything that is demeaning toward any player, you've got to look at as bad," wide receiver Marcus Robinson said.

Tight end Jermaine Wiggins said the players will try to stay focused on Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, a contest with playoff implications.

"You can't let it bother you. You've just got to go out there and play. Hopefully everything will work out in a positive light. Still, Sunday you've got to go out there and do your job," Wiggins said.

However, players have had to deal with questions about the boat incident from the national news and sports media for the last two months.

"It's definitely frustrating. In my opinion, I think a lot of stuff is blown way out of proportion. I guess that's what happens when you're an athlete or somebody that's in the spotlight. Everybody wants a shot at you," Wiggins said.

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