Former NFL head coach Tony Dungy grabbed attention on Monday, with the Tampa Tribune releasing his comments regarding St. Louis Rams rookie defensive end Michael Sam, who we all know by now was the first openly gay player to be drafted into the league. Dungy essentially said he wouldn’t have drafted Sam, based on the distraction that comes with having him in training camp and that “things will happen.” That is not exactly breaking news in an overall sense, and that sentiment was surely echoed through the draft rooms of the other 31 teams since Sam lasted until the seventh round of May’s draft.
Even after being named co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year after his senior season at Missouri, Sam was not highly regarded as a draft prospect. As a follower of college football and draft stuff in general, I had not heard of him prior to his coming out as gay. Be that as it may, Sam may have fallen a couple rounds in the draft based on his sexual orientation, which would be understandable on some level with non-sports media sure to descend on whatever training camp he attended.
Leaving aside his religious beliefs, Dungy seemed to be speaking as a football coach that would want to keep distractions to a minimum. Let’s face it, the level of distraction a player brings that will be tolerated is directly proportionate to the talent level he has. I’m not saying it’s right, and the league as a whole seems to have misplaced priorities when it comes to off the field transgressions and subsequent punishment. Sam’s sexual orientation is obviously not on the same level as an accusation of battery or a drunk driving arrest, but an argument can be made that the level of distraction his presence has will be greater with his teammates and coaches being bombarded with questions about him.
To quote the character Hyman Roth in the Godfather: Part II, “this is the business we’ve chosen”, and as NFL fans, followers and media we need to continue to accept that talent trumps everything. Sam will have an opportunity to earn a roster spot this year and he may eventually make his mark in the league on the field. Dungy’s comments were not wrong on the surface, even if they were strictly based on his religious beliefs, but the overreaction to what he had to say without further clarification from Dungy himself has been too much.