Tony Dungy’s recent statements regarding St. Louis Rams defensive end Michael Sam call into question both his credibility and character. Coming from a man who has battled discrimination throughout his career, to imply that Sam isn’t worth the potential distraction his sexual orientation may cause is somewhat hypocritical.
Dungy was the first African-American head coach in the NFL. He knows a thing or two about being a trailblazer. He has experienced the challenges of bigotry and prejudices and has fought through to overcome them. Think back to when Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ owner Malcolm Glazer had interviewed Dungy for their head coaching job. Imagine if he had thought Dungy would be a great fit and deserved to be an NFL head coach but just didn’t want to deal with the potential distraction that would inevitably stem from having the first African-American head coach in the NFL. If anyone can and should empathize with Sam’s situation, it’s Dungy.
Since retiring from coaching, Dungy has served as a mentor and helped many troubled players rehabilitate their images and revitalize their careers, the most notable being Michael Vick. Dungy began working with Vick after the QB had completed a federal prison term for his role in a dog fighting ring and had been reinstated by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The brutal, cruel and disgusting nature of Vick’s crimes had many wondering if he was worth the distraction signing him would cause. In stepped Dungy to not only provide Vick with guidance, but he went so far as to personally recommend him to several organizations as a player they should sign. So why was Vick worth the potential distraction but Sam is not? Vick tortured and killed dogs, while getting joy and making a profit out of it. Sam received the SEC Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2013, was voted MVP by his teammates, is a college graduate and also happens to be gay.
It’s difficult not to draw the connection between Dungy’s comments and his affiliation with the Indiana Family Institute, a conservative organization that actively lobbies against gay marriage. Everyone has the right to their own personal religious beliefs, but it’s flat-out backwards and hypocritical for Dungy to construct his opinions on Sam’s NFL worthiness based anything other than his skill set. If Dungy can overlook the potential distractions that would be caused by signing a convicted felon — like Vick — or backing a player suspected of murdering another man — like Marvin Harrison — and endorse them continuing their NFL careers, then why should Sam not get the same support? Religious beliefs and sexual orientations should never be factors in personnel decision-making in the NFL or any other workplace.
There is no doubt that Sam will attract a great deal of media attention, but so will Johnny Manziel, another rookie who Dungy has gone on record as saying he would have drafted. In fact, Sam cancelled a reality television show with the Oprah Winfrey Network, stating that he did not want to cause a distraction to his team. Manziel, on the other hand, is doing everything he can to stay in the limelight. For those upset about the Sam situation being shoved down their throats, blame the networks, magazines and websites that are desperate for viewers, readers and ratings, not Sam. Personally, I would rather not watch Sam kiss his boyfriend when I am watching NFL Draft coverage, but if a television network wants to go into his house to cover his draft experience, then it’s his right to celebrate with his significant other in any way he chooses.
At the end of the day, Sam’s NFL career will be defined by whether or not he can play. If he performs well during training camp and this preseason, he will be the first openly gay man on an active NFL roster. If not, he will have plenty of time to do reality shows or whatever else he chooses. As a renowned author on leadership and mentoring, Dungy should be ashamed by the hypocrisy of his statements. Someone took a chance on him regardless of whether things would “be totally smooth”.