It has been two and a half months since Michael Sam changed the American sports landscape, being the first openly gay player to be drafted to a professional team. Outside of his touching ESPYs speech last week, the former SEC standout has remained reserved as the NFL regular season approached. Sam was drafted with the 249th pick in the 2014 draft by the St. Louis Rams.
Former NFL coach Tony Dungy, however, made splashes this week by telling the Tampa Bay Tribune that he would not have drafted Sam to his team. Dungy explained that he would pass on the defensive lineman because of the inevitable distractions that the player would bring to the team. “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,” said Dungy.
This comment falls on the heels of a number of other questionably-tolerant remarks that the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts coach has made over the years. In 2007, Dungy drew criticism for his support of an Indiana constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage. Similarly, Dungy’s tweet regarding Jason Collins’ decision to come out also turned some heads.
@StampedeBlue I don’t agree with Jason Collins’ lifestyle but think he deserves respect and should have opportunities like anyone else!
— Tony Dungy (@TonyDungy) May 3, 2013
Although Dungy has consistently prefaced or followed his intolerant remarks with neutralizing statements like, “But everyone deserves a chance” and “I’m not trying to bring a certain group of people down,” his mindset is not something that the NFL should have on full display. Dungy is now a TV analyst, meaning he and his opinions are broadcast to the world on a regular basis in association with the NFL.
Dungy is a superb football mind and has rightfully garnered respect from coaches, players and fans for his success and knowledge of the game. It is important to separate his personal convictions with his utility as an analyst and NFL personality. However, it is equally important to acknowledge that what he believes, and subsequently says, reflects not only upon himself but upon the entire NFL community as well.
It is for this reason that Dungy must recede from the spotlight, or at the very least keep quiet on topics that might reveal his antiquated beliefs on marriage equality. This is not to say that Dungy does not have a right to express his views as a person and religious individual; it has nothing to do with freedom of speech. It has everything to do with the integrity of the NFL, a league that is already in the crosshairs for its highly publicized health concerns. While Dungy is employed by NBC, not the NFL, his fame as a player and coach forever links him with the league.
Thus far, the NFL has been commendable, as far as professional sports leagues go, with their handling of the Sam episode, coming across to many followers as tolerant and understanding of the changing social tides across the country. Yet, Dungy’s recent statement buck that trend and presents a concern to the NFL’s image. Despite his esteemed status as the first black coach to win a Super Bowl, a truly a commendable feat in its own right, it is time for his personal beliefs to be kept under wraps as the rest of the league drifts, however slowly, towards greater tolerance.