When Michael Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft, it was a moment of celebration for diversity. For the first time in its history, the NFL would have an openly gay player in their midst. Certainly not the first gay player in the NFL, in or out of the closet, but the first to acknowledge his sexuality publicly, during his playing days.
That led to some spectacularly ignorant debates, and Tony Dungy belatedly decided to weigh in. He told Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune this weekend that he would not have drafted Michael Sam."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.''
That's a spectacularly ignorant statement. Not because he's fundamentally wrong: it'd be naive to think that there won't be added attention, or that it will be a complete non-factor. It's an ignorant statement because this exact same attitude has always been used as an excuse to not do the right thing. "But it's extra effort" is a weak, weak argument.
And let's be honest here: if as a head coach you can't handle the added publicity or the locker-room friction brought on by the presence of an openly gay player, you aren't cut out for the job. Because a head coach has to deal with many, many much more difficult issues every single week. A little extra publicity and a few potential bigots in already diverse locker rooms shouldn't be a problem. But then Tony Dungy has always been an opponent of gay rights, and hasn't always shied away from players attracting publicity and creating locker room issues.
We traded FOR Keyshawn. I will leave it at that...— Stephen White (@sgw94) July 21, 2014
This isn't the first time someone associated with the Bucs has been part of anti-gay allegations in the NFL, either. Mike Priefer, the Minnesota Vikings' special teams coach, was suspended for three games for making homophobic comments. That happened on Leslie Frazier's watch, who was then the head coach in Minnesota and is now the defensive coordinator in Tampa.
Those comments didn't come to light until Chris Kluwe made them public. And while Kluwe's behavior hasn't been impeccable, his allegations have been largely proven correct. One of those allegations (which was not substantiated nor refuted by the published report) was that Frazier tried to get him to stop his off-field activism in favor of gay marriage, but was overruled by his owner at the time.
Whether or not that's true, one thing is clear: Mike Priefer made those comments on Leslie Frazier's watch. Leslie Frazier did not take any action, as far as we can see, to discipline Priefer. This makes him either incompetent in that he can't control his subordinates, or it makes him tolerant of anti-gay bigotry. Neither is a good look for the leader of any organization, and the Bucs should have and maybe did weigh that when hiring him.
The Buccaneers can be proud of promoting diversity in the past. They've had three black head coaches, more than any other organization. Tony Dungy actively promoted diversity in his coaching staff. The Bucs also used first-round draft picks on black quarterbacks twice, and have had several other black quarterbacks as well. And truly, they can't be held accountable for what Tony Dungy says now, nor what Leslie Frazier did in his previous job.
But that doesn't make it any more palatable to see people closely associated with the organization representing anti-gay views in one way or the other.
Update: This old Drew Magary column on why distractions are bullshit is worth reading, too.