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Tony Dungy issues statement regarding his controversial Michael Sam comments


NFL analyst Tony Dungy found himself in the center of a media controversy on Monday after comments he made to the Tampa Tribune regarding Michael Sam, the first openly gay player in the NFL.

Dungy, a devout Christian who has never been afraid to espouse his beliefs — although how much those beliefs came into play when making his comments is unknown — said that he wouldn’t have drafted Sam because of what he claims would be the many distractions a player would bring along with him to the team.

“I wouldn’t have taken him,” Dungy told the Tampa 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.”

Not surprisingly, Dungy’s comments were heavily scrutinized, and in some circles were condemned.

In a response to the reaction to his sound-byte-level comments to the Tampa paper, Dungy has issued a lengthy statement in which he addresses his original thoughts on Sam and defends the substance of what he said (via Pro Football Talk):

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 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.

Dungy’s more thorough follow-up commentary upon Michael Sam and his place on the St. Louis Rams roster are obviously much clearer, more detailed and much more precise as it relates to his true feelings regarding the issue of having a homosexual player on a team. Dungy insists that it’s not the fact that Sam is gay that will prove to be the distraction but instead it will be the constant and unrelenting media attention that will manifest itself as a consequence, something that the media firestorm that ensued following the reporting of Dungy’s original comments appear to illustrate quite convincingly.

Even though Dungy shouldn’t have been surprised by the subsequent backlash, he nevertheless stuck to the overriding theme of his original, shorter comments that Sam will prove to be a distraction. While many may not agree with his viewpoint, Dungy deserves at least a modicum of credit for remaining committed to his opinion by defending it in the face of a tremendous backlash, whether one believes his thoughts on the issue are shortsighted or insightful, wrong or right or any other filter one wishes to see them through.

Although, ultimately, Dungy has to recognize that the exact thing he bemoans regarding the “distraction” the media will cause for Sam and his teammates are being fueled by comments exactly like the one he made that started it all. As a member of the media himself, Dungy was in good position to downplay the media’s role in the fueling the fire. Instead, he fanned the flames.