I’m waiting all the facts to develop in the Michael Brown case so I can comment on it intelligently. In the meantime, I’d like to reflect on what is now a dead story for many – but not for me. Last month, iconic coach and NFL analyst Tony Dungy responded “no” when asked if he would have drafted St. Louis Rams rookie Michael Sam. Dungy opined, “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.”
Sam, of course, made news in February when he disclosed his homosexuality and subsequently became the first openly gay player to enter the National Football League’s draft in May. Magically, he went from being the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year to a “marginal talent” who was taken in the draft’s last round by the Rams. Though no NFL coach or executive will admit it, most reasonable people believe Sam’s draft free fall was due, at least in part, to his sexual orientation.
Like Sam, Anthony Kevin “Tony” Dungy is a first. He is one of only 14 black men to ever hold the head coach position in the NFL. He became the first to win a Super Bowl when he led the Indianapolis Colts to the championship in 2007. Dungy is impressive by any measure and is widely regarded as one of the most reflective, balanced, and decent men in or outside of football. This respect caused people to take notice when he said he would not have drafted Sam.
It is no secret that Dungy is a very religious man. His public stance against gay marriage a few years ago gives a not-so-subtle hint on his views on homosexuality. To be sure, his original statement concerning Sam left the door open for myriad legitimate questions. Would he not have drafted Sam because he regards him as a potentially sub-par NFL player? Was his sentiment because of Sam’s sexual orientation? Is he against homosexuals playing in the NFL at all? If he supports denying gays the right to marry, in what other ways is he willing to discriminate against them?
Dungy later released a statement to “clarify” his remarks. Among other things, he said, “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.” Dungy seems to argue that Sam’s homosexuality isn’t the problem – the media attention it brings is. Therefore, he wouldn’t have drafted him because of the media distraction brought on by his homosexuality and without the homosexuality there would be no distraction. For all the love and respect Tony Dungy merits, this is circular reasoning.
In the end, I’m not exactly sure what is driving Tony Dungy’s stance on Michael Sam. What I do know is if it is rooted in homophobia (be it cloaked in religion or not), he should be taken to task – as should all people willing to peripheralize anyone because they’re different. Black homophobes should be especially ashamed. People who have been subjected to some of the most inhumane treatment in the history of mankind simply because of their hue should be the last to discriminate against others. We know better than any race of people walking this earth what the indecency of bigotry does to human possibilities, dignity and the soul. Socially and religiously conservative blacks should remember the Ku Klux Klan justifies its hatefulness with God and the Good Book as well.
Don’t get me wrong – I respect Tony Dungy but his reasoning is a bit confusing. Change is never “smooth.” It wasn’t smooth for Fritz Pollard, Jackie Robinson or Althea Gibson. It wasn’t smooth for Bill Russell, Doug Williams or Arthur Ashe. It hasn’t been smooth for Barack Obama and it won’t be smooth for Michael Sam. In a day when we have the first all black team compete in the Little League World Series in a decade, good and brave people like Dungy should not avoid things because they’re not smooth. They should welcome the media attention, stand before the cameras, fight, and turn it to the good.
Until next time – MAINTAIN!