(Yahoo!) Tony Dungy has always had a strong voice on African-American issues and even was a guiding light for Michael Vick at his lowest point. But the former Buccaneers and Colts head coach told the Tampa Bay Tribune he would not have wanted to help shepherd Michael Sam into the NFL if he was still coaching.
“I wouldn’t have taken him,’’ said Dungy, now an analyst for NBC. “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.’’
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Things almost happened with an Oprah-led TV crew was set to roll into St. Louis to tell Sam's story in the form of a documentary, but following some backlash to that announcement, Sam's camp announced that the Own Network project would be put on hold, which is industry talk for "someone tried to bury this thing in the desert."
Speaking of backlash, Dungy will receive some — and he should. This will not make for a popular stance among the media, who typically look to Dungy with respect on his opinions, and it appears to fly slightly in the face of what he has said on the topic previously.
When asked prior to the draft about Sam's place in the NFL after he had revealed to the world he was gay, Dungy said (via NBC Channel 2 in Terre Haute, Ind.):
"The NFL has always been based on merit, and I think that will continue to be the case with Michael Sam and the issue homosexuality or anything else. Guys who produce and play well will be welcomed into the league."
No one can appreciate a meritorious approach to building an NFL roster than Dungy, who played in the NFL as a minority in the 1970s, when racism likely was stronger and more prevalent in the league than it is it today. Had NFL teams held a similar stance about keeping African-Americans out of the NFL then as Dungy seems to be taking on the Sam issue now, then we'd be looking at a league that would have handicapped some of its best players.
Dungy was the first African American head coach in league history to win a Super Bowl.
There was more vitriol against Vick when he re-entered the league than what Sam has faced. As in exponentially more. If there are people protesting Sam's place in the NFL, they will be a mostly shunned and marginalized minority. No one is debating whether Sam belongs in the NFL, the way the convicted dog fighter Vick was after the Eagles signed him.
But Dungy acted as a mentor to Vick, and his efforts were noble. He encouraged teams to sign Vick before the Eagles did, speaking on Vick's behalf both publicly and privately to his friends around the league who were kicking the tires on signing him after Vick's prison stint. But Sam apparently represents a level of distraction that would be too much for Dungy. It's a puzzling take.
The Sam story has picked up a little with training camp approaching, but it has been mostly quiet outside of his emotional and moving speech at the ESPYs. Rather, the rookie who is dominating the news cycle since the draft (and, really, well before that) is Johnny Manziel. We'll need to get Dungy's take on Johnny Football one of these days.
Dungy had an opinion on the issue, and he stated it. Let's not eviscerate a man for being honest, even if his take is controversial. After all, he's expressing a view that other current NFL decision makers likely share — but would not admit to short of having a few doses of sodium pentothal mainlined — is revealing.
But Dungy also appeared to have given a scrubbed, politcally correct version of his stance in February to change it over only five months without much having changed in Sam's quest to become the first openly gay player in the NFL. There's an inconsistency and a lack of authenticity to what Dungy has said there that certainly are open to criticism.
Dungy also should clarify what exactly he thinks he'd be dealing with. By most accounts, Sam is humble and hungry to prove the doubters wrong and make the team as a seventh-round pick who sees himself on the outside looking in until he has been told he has made the 53-man roster. That's the kind of player most NFL coaches would want on their team.
Dungy seemed to "deal" with the distractions of Marvin Harrison being investigated for a homicide at the end of his time in Indianapolis. He dealt with Colts players Mike Doss, Darrell Reid, DeDe Dorsey, Dominic Rhodes and Dexter Reid who were arrested under Dungy's watch for various things that were illegal. Those were fine to deal with, but Sam — who chooses to date men — would be too much?
Dungy's talking about the media distraction, of course, and it's something that every NFL team discussed when bringing up Sam's draftabilty, just as Tim Tebow and his religion and the legion of followers might be the reason few teams wanted much to do with him. But if players such as Tebow and Sam, whose intentions appear to be good, can play then why should they be blackballed? That's sad and unfortunate if it's the prevailing NFL stream of thought.
Although not everyone supports Sam in his effort, you'd have to say that based on how the past five months have gone, Dungy would find his opinion — at least among people not employed in the NFL — to be in the minority.