Tony Dungy's assessment of Rams rookie Michael Sam shows stunning lack of courage

The good news for Tony Dungy is that once upon a time enough people in power, be it in football … education … government … wherever, decided that they should empower African-Americans with the opportunities they deserved. They did this no matter whether things would go "totally smooth" or cause "things to happen" with the bigots who wanted to cling to the old days.

At some point they said someone such as Dungy deserved to go to school with white people, play football with white people, even coach football like white people once exclusively did, even at the highest levels of the NFL. They rejected the ancient concept that blacks either weren't deserving/capable of such opportunities. Even more important, they ignored the idiotic idea that until every last racist was completely and wholly comfortable with a black man playing, learning or working alongside them (let alone be the boss) then such opportunity should continue to be withheld.

The smartest people pushed the dumbest aside and decided to just let the best person win.

Michael Sam is trying to make the roster with the Rams as a seventh-round draft pick. (AP)
Michael Sam is trying to make the roster with the Rams as a seventh-round draft pick. (AP)

And Tony Dungy won. From high school in Jackson, Mich., to college at the University of Minnesota, to the NFL as both a Super Bowl-winning player and coach. It continued as a best-selling author, coveted and highly compensated speaker and now high-profile analyst on NBC, front and center on the No. 1 television show in America.

Despite all of that, Dungy decided to throw gasoline on the training camp story of the year by telling the Tampa Tribune that unlike the St. Louis Rams, he never would have drafted Michael Sam, the NFL's first openly homosexual player, because someone (who, he didn't say) might not handle it so well.

"I wouldn't have taken him,'' Dungy told the Tribune. "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.''

This thinking is devoid of courage – in every possible way. And that's what makes this so pathetic.

Dungy has a well-earned reputation as a straight shooter and a stand-up guy. It's almost impossible to play and work in the NFL without self-belief and heart. He is a powerful figure. He says a lot of smart things. He knows tough times and consistently finds time for people going through them.

He should be a lot better than this.

Dungy is an outspoken conservative Christian and if he were to say that he wouldn't have drafted Michael Sam because the Bible that Dungy believes in condemns Sam's lifestyle that would be … well, that would be ridiculous, hypocritical and wrong also, but at least it would seemingly jibe with Dungy's sometimes expressed beliefs.

Sometimes being the operative word.

Dungy, is, after all, a guy who has drafted, hired, signed, coached, championed and personally mentored scores of players and coaches who routinely engaged in Biblical definitions of sin, let alone behavior that goes against modern societal standards. He was (rightfully) a huge proponent, for instance, of Michael Vick deserving a second chance after incarceration for the operation of a dog-fighting ring.

Still, at least it would be some kind of principled (if misguided) stance. At least it would've been honest.

This is actually worse. This is a complete cop-out. This is Dungy bending to the beliefs that he knows are wrong simply because those who hold them may – may – find doing the right thing difficult.

This is Dungy not standing up for his own convictions. It's Dungy using the same old buzzwords that caused society to move so slowly to grant equal rights and opportunities to minorities of all kinds, choosing what's easy over what's right (even if it likely will be easier for the generation of guys who actually play than an old man like Dungy realizes).

Integrated third grades weren't "smooth." A black man on the Dodgers caused "things to happen." The first female executives in the business world weren't welcome by all. Lots of people were aghast at the thought of minorities owning homes, especially in their neighborhood. Politicians that didn't look like the Founding Fathers were upsetting to some. Many bristled against the idea of blacks, Hispanics, Asians, women, gays, whatever on factory lines, boardrooms, school boards and on military front lines.

This isn't even worth arguing. Caving to the most ignorant and obstinate among us is an embarrassment and should never, ever, be the basis for anything. Ever.

For an NFL executive to not draft an openly gay player because someone in his locker room or fan base or anywhere might – might – not handle it so well is some kind of Jim Crow-era awful.

The good news for everyone other than Tony Dungy is that Tony Dungy doesn't draft players or coach players anymore. Dungy merely talks for a living and this week he'll deal with the reaction to his talking – there will be plenty of criticism, not to mention support via tortured straw man arguments, political opportunism and misguided admiration.

This isn't about politics though. This isn't about religion. This isn't about what anyone thinks of Michael Sam. This is about Tony Dungy sadly acknowledging he'd care more about someone's narrow mindedness than his own realization that everyone deserves a fair shot.

Mercifully Dungy is from the old NFL mindset rooted in a dying segment of society, like those who once wouldn't draft, hire, educate or vote for an African-American. Fortunately there are more than enough coaches, executives, players, fans and people these days who think otherwise.

So Michael Sam will report to training camp this week. If he can play, he will play. If he can't, he won't.

Seems reasonable.