Former Colts and Buccaneers head coach and current NBC analyst Tony Dungy says that if he were still an NFL head coach, he wouldn’t have drafted Michael Sam, who became the first openly gay player in league history when the Rams selected him in May.
“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.’’
What Dungy is expressing publicly is similar to what some coaches and general managers have said privately, in anonymous quotes in stories about Sam before the draft. But Dungy is the highest-profile person in the NFL world to put his name behind the viewpoint that Sam would cause a distraction and would be more trouble than he’s worth.
Dungy’s comments therefore serve as a reminder that the Rams deserve credit for not allowing the concerns about distractions to keep them
from picking Sam. We don’t know how many teams passed on Sam because he’s gay and how many teams passed on Sam because they simply didn’t think he was a good enough player, but we do know that the Rams were the team that ended Sam’s fall late in the seventh round of the draft. Whether Sam pans out as a player or not, the Rams made history by making the NFL more inclusive.
And that’s where Dungy’s comments become troubling. If everyone refused to hire minorities because it could cause a distraction, no minority group would ever make any progress. Dungy has praised the late Chuck Noll for adding Dungy to the Steelers’ coaching staff in 1981, at a time when most NFL teams didn’t have any African-American assistant coaches. What if Noll had declined to hire Dungy because he worried that some of the white assistant coaches would have a problem with a black colleague?
Dungy may be right when he says “things will happen” because the Rams have an openly gay player on their roster, but those things aren’t Sam’s fault. And those things shouldn’t prevent any NFL team from drafting an openly gay player.