On Monday, the Tampa Tribune published 38 words from Tony Dungy regarding whether he’d draft Michael Sam. On Tuesday, Dungy issued a statement clarifying his thoughts on the issue.
On Wednesday, Dungy talked at length about the situation on The Dan Patrick Show.
Dungy reiterated, as explained in his statement, that the comments were made in the aftermath of the draft, when it became known for the first time that Sam was planning to turn his experiences into a TV series.
“I think the actual first quotes were from an interview with a gentlemen at the Tampa Tribune right after the draft,” Dungy said. “We were talking about draft and distractions and it was when the Oprah Winfrey show was talking about doing a reality show on Michael Sam and that’s when the discussion came out about distractions as related to draft choices. . . . We were talking about the show, and I think that was something people didn’t anticipate. And those things were going to happen and are going to happen, and that’s what I was discussing and what we’re talking about.”
Dungy compared the Sam situation to the controversy surrounding former Dolphins (current 49ers) tackle Jonathan Martin, who quit the team after being bullied. Both bring a distraction of some type to an NFL locker room. The question is whether either are good enough from a talent standpoint to overcome those non-football issues.
“I talked to some General Managers,” Dungy said regarding work that was done during the 2013 football season, “and they said that Jonathan definitely has the talent to play in the league, but would they want the distraction of everybody’s following the story, and people asking their players over and over, ‘How are things are going?’, ‘What’s going on with Jonathan?’, ‘Who’s saying what to him?’ And because of the fact that they didn’t view him as a difference maker, they probably wouldn’t want the distractions. And I guess that’s my point in the whole thing. If we substitute Jonathan Martin for Michael Sam and have the same quotes and the same comments, nobody’s gonna replay those quotes two months and three months later, and try to say that there’s any more to it than what was actually said.”
Dan asked Dungy about his position on the distractions created by Sam and the distractions created by signing Mike Vick after he spent time in prison for dogfighting, a common comparison that has been made in the aftermath of Dungy’s remarks.
“People have to make their own decisions, and a lot of people made decisions that they didn’t want to accept that,” Dungy said regarding Vick. “And if Philadelphia said that same thing to Michael, I don’t think he could be mad, I couldn’t be mad. That’s a decision that they make for their team, and I’m sure they had discussions about it. And that was my only point, that those things are discussed. And people asked my personal opinion, and I gave the gentleman my opinion. But it wasn’t anything to attack Michael Sam or it wasn’t to come out the day before they report to camp and say he shouldn’t be there. I don’t believe that at all. I do believe he should be there, and I’m glad he is.”
Dungy said he was caught off guard by the timing of the publication of his past comments.
“I was very surprised, because as I say I’ve been out here in Oregon six or seven weeks and haven’t heard anything about it and hadn’t talked to anybody in the media in two months, so I was shocked when I read Mike Florio’s [website] and that was the headline, ‘Tony Dungy wouldn’t have drafted Michael Sam.’ And I know a lot of people are trying to make this about my Christian faith, and that’s not something I’m going to back down from ever. And I do have my Christian beliefs.
“But I think people should recognize that when you go into coaching, you have a responsibility to deliver a good football team to your owner, so you’re going to do everything you can to do that. So I would not, and I’ve said that many times and been on record when asked about Michael Sam specifically. No, I wouldn’t have a problem coaching him and I would not have a problem [with] him being on the team, and you make those decisions based on what people bring to the table athletically, and what they can do to make your team better.”
Dan asked about whether Dungy’s Christian beliefs come into play.
“I think it always does,” Dungy said. “And I think that’s part of walking as a Christian, and I accept that part of it. People are always going to have their views, I don’t expect everybody to agree with me. But I don’t think people should expect me to back down on my views about faith. But again, this was not a discussion about that. This was a discussion about a particular situation at a particular time and a particular player. And I think for people to take it into, ‘Well, this means he hates this group of people’ or ‘He wouldn’t do this,’ those are things I’ve been reading in the past day that really surprised me.”
Dungy takes issue with the idea that his position on Sam arises from Dungy’s views on homosexuality or gay marriage, as advanced by Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star.
“Gay marriage and who should be on a football team have nothing to do with each other,” Dungy said. “Bob Kravitz . . . knows the type of locker room that we had, the type of players. Not everybody on that team was a Christian, not everybody believed the same things I did. Not everybody had the same political views. And that’s fine. That’s good. That’s what a football locker room is all about. But to equate this to gay marriage to me is really silly.”
Dan also asked Dungy whether he plans to reach out to Sam.
“I hadn’t thought about it, but I think it might be a good idea I’ve love to do that, and hopefully I get the chance,” Dungy said. “I would want to wish him the best and let him know I have no bitterness or animosity toward him. Even though I don’t agree with his lifestyle, I love him. And I wish him the best, and I’d love to say that to him.”
Chances are that discussion will happen sooner than later. Whenever it occurs, the debate regarding what Dungy said and what he meant will linger, with some being fair about the assessment of Dungy’s words and some being unfair about it. Which is pretty much how it works on any subject that is even remotely controversial.