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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Keep It Locked in the Dungy

Former Super Bowl Champion and Pro Football Hall of Fame Finalist Head Coach Tony Dungy, one of the most respected figures in NFL history, waded ever so slightly into the pool of controversy on Monday. 

Dungy commented that he would not have drafted former University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, the NFL’s first openly gay player to be drafted. Sam was selected by the St. Louis Rams in the 7th round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Dungy cited the distractions that would come with having the first openly gay player on the team as the reason. He went on to say, however, that Sam deserves a chance to play in the NFL. It was at this point that I had to stop and scratch my head.

Dungy can fiund at least one person who would agree with him. I'll bet Tyler Murphy (center, getting body slammed) wished that Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel didn't give Sam (right, #52, throwing Murphy to the ground) a chance. 2

Tony Dungy is one of my favorite Head Coaches in the history of sports. His pristine reputation is well earned. He is almost universally respected by players, peers, and media alike. But I think the good coach stepped into a little doo-doo with these remarks.

One of my biggest criticisms of most public figures, especially the “good guys”, is that they rarely say things to ruffle any feathers. Usually, people who are universally liked do not get to be that way by rubbing others the wrong way. They tend to think before they speak, make well-reasoned statements and choices in life, and demonstrate respect for their fellow men, even when they don’t necessarily agree.

That is a very safe approach to personal and public relationships. Safe doesn’t tell me much about a person’s deep inner core. When Dungy opined on the selection of Michael Sam, we tiptoed out of the safety zone. Good for him.

I don’t necessarily agree; football is a game of inches. Michael Sam was an accomplished enough pass rush at Missouri to win the 2014 SEC co-Defensive Player of the Year. I think that an edge, even a slight one, provided by a player in one of the four most important positions on the field (DE, CB, OT, QB) can make a difference between winning and losing. In my opinion, that trumps a social controversy which, for several years, has become exponentially less controversial with each passing day.

Still, the public sentiment is far from the level of consensus on an openly gay player in a masculine, often macho environment like a sports locker room, fire hall, police department, or military barracks. There will be additional attention from the media placed on Sam because of his known sexual orientation. It may make people uncomfortable to know that his orientation could affect his career prospects, but Coach Dungy offered just such an opinion.

Why would Coach Dungy hedge his bets by saying that Sam still deserves a chance to play? How can he say that when he just said he would not have drafted Sam?!?!? Is he saying that he wouldn’t have Sam on his team, but he would support another coach’s decision to bring Sam into camp? I doubt that he is saying he isn’t a good enough manager of his players to handle having Sam on the roster. What is he saying?


Tony Dungy made it quite clear that he would not have drafted Michael Sam. A man who has spent his career leading by example and even wrote a book called, “Quite Strength” is not setting a very consistent or strong example by turning around and saying Sam deserves a chance to play. Dungy would not offer that chance because of his orientation.

I think Dungy should demonstrate some of that quiet strength and stand behind his controversial and not necessarily popular beliefs. Own them; stand behind them; defend them. If not, then just “stay safe” and say nothing.

Quite strength...verbal weakness.
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