And yet another seemingly innocent comment spoken with sincerity and devoid of any clear aspect of hatred or bias has ballooned into controversy in the modern media as former NFL coach turned television commentator Tony Dungy expressed the following phrase during an interview with the Tampa Tribune when asked whether or not he would have drafted Michael Sam—the first openly gay player in the history of the National Football League.
"I wouldn't have taken him," Dungy said. "Not because I don't believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn't want to deal with all of it. It's not going to be totally smooth. … Things will happen.''
Since that time the debate has swirled on cable sports news network debate shows, Internet blog sites and in barber shop conversations as well. To be certain, no one should be surprised at Dungy’s stance considering his record strictly from a football perspective. To him, it’s all about the players and the fans. However, naysayers say him as being anti-gay and point to his stance against gay marriage dating back as recently as 2007. At that time the deeply religious Dungy caused a stir by saying he supported the conservative think tank Indiana Family Institute’s attempt to amend the Indiana state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman when accepting the Friend of Family award. At the time he said: "We're not trying to downgrade anyone else. But we're trying to promote the family -- family values the Lord's way.” Yet, we’re up in arms when the man thoughtfully and honestly answered a question fielded to him by a journalist? What was he supposed to do, lie? Since the most recent blow up over his interview with the Tampa Tribune, Dungy has amended his prior statement in another one released to ProFootballTalk.com.
"I was not asked whether or not Michael Sam deserves an opportunity to play in the NFL. He absolutely does. I was not asked whether his sexual orientation should play a part in the evaluation process. It should not. I was not asked whether I would have a problem having Michael Sam on my team. I would not. I have been asked all of those questions several times in the last three months and have always answered them the same way—by saying that playing in the NFL is, and should be, about merit. The best players make the team, and everyone should get the opportunity to prove whether they’re good enough to play. That’s my opinion as a coach. But those were not the questions I was asked. What I was asked about was my philosophy of drafting, a philosophy that was developed over the years, which was to minimize distractions for my teams. I do not believe Michael’s sexual orientation will be a distraction to his teammates or his organization. I do, however, believe that the media attention that comes with it will be a distraction. Unfortunately we are all seeing this play out now, and I feel badly that my remarks played a role in the distraction.”
Others have cited the manner in which he supported former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick after he was released from prison in 2009 following serving a sentence on dog fighting charges. Americans love dogs, and are historically indifferent to African American males, so that circumstance caused a swirl of controversy. However, as is the case with Michael Sam, Dungy repeatedly defended Michael Vick’s right to play NFL football.
He simply stated his own aversion to drafting Sam based upon the ensuing media firestorm, a firestorm that he has regrettably added to with his comments. From a hypothetical standpoint, Dungy would not have drafted Tim Tebow, who Dungy was a fan of coming out of college, for the same reason. No one could have forseen the type media distraction he brought with him. But it was quite clear the reporters would be out in numbers to cover Michael Sam. So, if he had said he wouldn’t have drafted Tebow, would the devout Christian be called anti-Christian? But with his most recent comments regarding Michael Sam everyone is saying how much of a hypocrite he is, yet I’m failing to see how that is so. Liberals love to make the Jackie Robinson correlation regarding the distraction that he may have stirred around the Brooklyn Dodgers, but the latter is a lazy man’s comparison to the former. First off, Jackie Robinson was already blowing up the Negro League playing against professional athletes as a member of the Kansas City Monarchs- a team for which he had a gaudy .387 batting average over 47 games. I’ll reiterate, these were against professionals.
In addition, some felt Robinson wasn’t even the best Negro League player at the time but his intelligence and command of the spoken word made him a better choice than say pitcher Satchel Paige or homerun hitter Josh Gibson, aka the Black Babe Ruth Yes, Sam won SEC defensive player of the year but, in the immortal words of Cedric the Entertainer, Robinson's opponents were grown-ass-men, dog. Meanwhile, Michael Sam did work in college, leading the SEC in sacks his senior year, but he almost didn’t get drafted. There was some positive scout talk of his motor and his commitment; however, he ran a 4.9 in the 40 yard dash, a wretched time, and only put up 17 reps on the bench press, which was next to last among all defensive lineman at the NFL combine in February.
The fact that he got drafted was a minor miracle in itself, not because of his sexual orientation but because the preliminary numbers said he simply was not that good. So comparing the type of distraction that the highly-talented Jackie Robinson’s integration of Major League Baseball had on the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the distraction that the then explosive QB Michael Vick brought to the Philadelphia Eagles after being released from a federal penitentiary, to Michael Sam being drafted with the 249th overall pick in the 7th round by the St. Louis Rams is blustery hyperbole at best. Sports is the closest thing we have to a true meritocracy in the world.
One’s worth is determined by what one does on the field and the level of headaches a coaching staff is willing to put up with is similarly determined by the player’s talent level. A benchwarmer who gets a DUI will be cut a lot faster than an All-American with the same offense. That’s just the way it is in team sports. Tony Dungy is not hating on Michael Sam because he’s gay. The old school coach simply made a statement based upon his analysis of Sam’s talent level and weighed it against the media distractions and headaches involved. Anyone accusing him of any level of hypocrisy is delving in irresponsible sensationalism and need to immediately take their soap box and go home.