clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Tony Dungy releases statement on Michael Sam, changes nothing

New, comments

Tony Dungy has released a statement to clarify his earlier comments on Michael Sam, but they don't really change anything.

Scott Halleran

Yesterday, Tony Dungy said in the Tampa Tribune that he would not draft Michael Sam because of the distractions that would bring. I responded to that and Leslie Frazier's involvement in the Vikings' ongoing anti-gay issues, and suddenly we had a 700-page comment thread. Today, Tony Dungy decided to clarify his thoughts a little in a statement to Pro Football Talk, and I thought it would be fair for me to present them.

I'll present that statement, then give you my reaction to it. And then I'll shut up about this issue for a while (barring any new developments).

On Monday afternoon while on vacation with my family, I was quite surprised to read excerpts from an interview I gave several weeks ago related to this year's NFL Draft, and I feel compelled to clarify those remarks.

I was asked whether I would have drafted Michael Sam and I answered that I would not have drafted him. I gave my honest answer, which is that I felt drafting him would bring much distraction to the team. At the time of my interview, the Oprah Winfrey reality show that was going to chronicle Michael's first season had been announced.

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.

I wish Michael Sam nothing but the best in his quest to become a star in the NFL and I am confident he will get the opportunity to show what he can do on the field.

My sincere hope is that we will be able to focus on his play and not on his sexual orientation.

This clarification is nice, but it doesn't change anything about the content of his message, or at least as I interpreted it. He doesn't want the media distraction of Michael Sam on his team. But the only reason Michael Sam is a potential media distraction is that he is the only openly gay player in the NFL. And that situation was caused by systematic discrimination: there's a social cost to being an openly gay NFL player right now.

In effect, discrimination created a situation where any openly gay NFL player would be a media distraction, regardless of that player's actions. Instead of trying to fight that system as he has in the past, Dungy simply bows to the established environment and gives cover to discrimination by accepting the system's rationale. He would have been outraged had anyone said that they would not want to deal with the media distractions of having a black head coach in the mid-1990s, and rightly so, regardless of the validity of that concern.

That's why I called his statement ignorant, Dan Wetzel accused him of a "stunning lack of courage", and Jane Coaston ridiculed the idea that Sam would be a distraction. Tony Dungy did not address any of those concerns, and instead doubled down on his contention that he would not stand up, do the right thing, and ignore the media in his evaluation of Michael Sam. He didn't even say that he'd be able to handle a distraction, as he did with Keyshawn Johnson, Warren Sapp, Michael Vick, Plaxico Burress and Nilo Silvan.

That, to me, is a disappointment, though hardly a surprise given Dungy's history of anti-gay activism.