On Monday, the Tampa Tribune published Tony Dungy’s answer to the question of whether he would have drafted Michael Sam, the NFL’s first openly-gay player. Dungy’s 38 words triggered a flood of debate and controversy, and plenty of pointed criticism.
On Tuesday, Dungy issued a statement elaborating on his comments. The full text of it appears here.
Dungy explains that the quotes were obtained in the aftermath of the draft, following the news that Oprah Winfrey would turn Sam’s story into a reality show. (The plug has since been pulled on the project.)
“I gave my honest answer, which is that I felt drafting him would bring much distraction to the team,” Dungy says.
“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.”
Dungy notes that he had been asked those questions in the preceding three months, and that he consistently said that playing in the NFL “is, and should be, about merit.” The question posted by the Tampa Tribune focused much more narrowly than that.
“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,” the former Buccaneers and Colts head coach says. “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.”
While not mentioned by Dungy, Sam’s status as a marginal prospect likely was a factor in that analysis. Some players are good enough to justify the distractions that come along with employing them, from Lawrence Taylor to Michael Vick to Ben Roethlisberger to Johnny Manziel. Sam, the 249th selection in a 256-man draft, may not be good enough to make it. Thus, Dungy and plenty of other coaches would choose not put on the roster bubble a player whose mere presence could be the equivalent of signing up for Hard Knocks.
And then, if/when the player is cut, the scrutiny intensifies. “Did his teammates not accept him?” “Was there a power struggle in the front office?” “Is the coaching staff split?” “Did something happen?”
Dungy is expected to talk about the situation later this week, on The Dan Patrick Show. Until then, his statement and the context of his original comments should be considered, regardless of whether Dungy’s position is being criticized or praised.