Former NFL head coach Tony Dungy was caught in the middle of a media firestorm Monday when comments he made about not wanting to deal with the distractions that would come with Michael Sam went viral.
Dungy, who had yet to speak since the comments were released, issued a statement to various media organizations including the Indianapolis Star and Pro Football Talk to try to clear up what he had said.
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.
We were slow to rush to judgment on Monday here at Shutdown Corner until Dungy spoke further but critical of the fact that he did not give context to why he thought it would be a distraction to have Sam in his locker room (or that the writer, Ira Kaufman, did not explain the context. Kaufman does so in an interview on "The Dan Patrick Show.").
This statement helps, but there's a discrepancy between Dungy and Kaufman. Dungy says in his statement that the interview took place when Sam announced a deal to do a documentary with Oprah Winfrey. Kaufman says the interview took place "a week or two back" since the original article was published in the Tampa Tribune on Sunday.
Whether Dungy wishes he never said the initial comment, or wishes that it were characterized differently, is another matter. He said what he said, and in a vacuum the comments — while honest — appeared to be exclusionary. Either Dungy wasn't confident in his own hypoethetical ability to control said distractions, or he didn't think that lesser talents were worth the trouble if they brought extra attention to a team.
As Dungy noted, his statement exacerbated a situation that had been relatively dormant since the Oprah project was shelved. And in a strange way, Dungy proved prophetic: His comments helped stir up a debate that most people had moved on from in some respects prior to Sam trying to prove he can make it in the NFL.
Quotations do get taken out of context. In this case, that might have happened. No, Dungy might not have selected his words exceptionally well, but he provided a perfectly logical reason for having said them. You don't have to agree with Dungy, and he very well could be quite wrong about it. But he was honest in his assessment, and irony here is that he helped create a distraction that he as a coach long sought to avoid.
Funny how that works.
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