sam

Making headlines across the sports world is the story surrounding former coaching great and current NFL analyst Tony Dungy and recently drafted Michael Sam, the first openly gay player in the NFL. When asked whether he would draft Michael Sam, here’s what Coach Dungy had to say:

“I wouldn’t have taken him. 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.’’

As to be expected, accusations of homophobia have passed around all over the media. Since that time, Dungy has attempted to smooth things over with a statement, typical of a person immersed in controversy. Attempting to clarify his comments, Dungy is now indicating that he feels Sam deserves an opportunity to play in the NFL, but in doing so Sam would create a huge distraction for the players and the organization.

So here’s the thing: I get it, and I don’t necessarily disagree with Dungy when he puts it that way. Whether it was his intention or not, Michael Sam’s story brings with it tons of media attention, almost on a Tim Tebow-esque level. I’m quite certain that Sam – like most players in the league –  just wants to suit up, knock a couple of heads around, and get a paycheck. But an openly gay player in an overwhelming alpha-male sport will be media fodder, even if/when the players themselves could care less.

Now, Sam didn’t help matters much by making his sexual preference known. He had every right to, sure. But if equality is what you’re striving for (and sports IS the great equalizer), why make it an issue yourself? While it’s true that the media focuses on some players and their mates (celebrity couples like Tom Brady and Giselle Bündchen immediately come to mind), most players don’t have their relationships showcased. Frankly, Michael Sam didn’t need to either, even if it was in an attempt to make history. He made the choice to divulge his sexuality (which, as a side note, is why we REALLY need to put to rest the comparisons between sexual discrimination and racial discrimination. Gay folks can keep their relationships to themselves. People can’t keep their race to themselves. There is no comparison, so stop it already). On top of that, Sam also attempted to do that documentary thing on Oprah’s network, calling even more attention to himself, good or bad. Even though though the series was postponed, one would be hard-pressed to argue against Dungy’s point of Sam’s being a distraction. It’s not in the same as distractions caused by players like Albert Haynesworth, Terrell Owens, and Chad Johnson Ochocinco Johnson. But it is a distraction nonetheless.

Dungy’s problem wasn’t in predicting the media circus that would come with drafting Sam. He’s probably right about that. His fault isn’t even in the personal beliefs he holds. As far as I’m concerned, his beliefs are rooted in the same religious convictions that I believe make him a good man in multiple other facets in his life. His problem was the fact that he would have allowed his personal beliefs to cloud his professional thinking about Sam and his ability to play. I’m sorry, but there’s no nice way of saying you would refuse to give a player – especially a good player – an opportunity to play just because of the attention his sexual orientation would draw. Whether he meant it or not, I think Dungy was parenthetically saying he didn’t agree with Sam’s lifestyle choice and was not ready or willing to embrace it or the media circus that came with it. Even if he didn’t use those exact words, that’s what I suspect people took away from the conversation. There is no way to defend that kind of ideology, especially in a merit-based industry like sports.

Like most people, I hope Michael Sam makes the roster, has a great career, and represents the league well as a positive ambassador. And like Sam said himself, I’m glad Dungy wasn’t the one in charge of determining this young man’s fate. So now that Sam has a chance to prove himself, I guess we’ll all have to wait and see if he’s worth all the attention he’s receiving.

At least, worth it on the football field.

What say you? What do you think about Dungy’s comments? Are they worth the attention they’re receiving? Chime in!

– ACL