One of the most dearly-held dogmas in the National Football League is that former Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy is of such high moral character that he’s beyond reproach. The peak of this mythology came in 2010, when ESPN published a jaw-droppingly obsequious feature about Dungy, essentially recasting him as St. Anthony the Redeemer because he provides counsel to troubled (black) football players.
In that piece, Dungy betrays a bit of narcissism by suggesting that if he knew Michael Vick was organizing dog fights that he might have been able to save the quarterback from himself.
But Dungy is also anti-gay, having supported organizations that actively fight gay marriage and gay adoption. That’s why it comes as no surprise that Dungy had this to say about the drafting of the openly gay Michael Sam by the St. Louis Rams:
“I wouldn’t have taken him,’’ said former Bucs and Colts coach Tony Dungy, now an analyst for NBC. “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.”
In all honesty, I have no idea if Dungy’s position on this could be any more cowardly. At least if he had just said, “I don’t think gay players should get a chance to play,” we could call him a bigot and move on.
However, for Dungy to admit that Sam should have the opportunity to play while simultaneously saying that he wouldn’t have been the coach to give him the chance because he “wouldn’t want to deal with all of it” is so astoundingly disgraceful as to defy belief.
Imagine if Branch Rickey had said, “You know, this Jackie Robinson fella deserves a shot, but I don’t want to deal with the fact that there are bigots in this league. Things will happen.”
What would history think of that guy?
Yet that’s basically the position of Dungy, who is also the first black head coach to win a Super Bowl. One would think he’d be sympathetic to other potential historic firsts, but apparently not.
Look, it’s true that sexual orientation aside, Sam faces an uphill battle. As a defensive end he’s undersized for the NFL and didn’t have a great combine. If he’s going to make the Rams final roster, he’s going to need to have one hell of a training camp and preseason.
But Dungy’s comments are not only cowardly, they miss the entire point of why they’re coming out of his anti-gay mouth in the first place: There is a strain of homophobia in the NFL that needs to go away immediately. And the way you do that isn’t by being a guy who declines to give a gay player a chance to play even though you think he should have one, but by taking a chance yourself and seeing what he’s got.