I want Michael Sam to succeed at football. I want him to succeed at football because he’s good at football; not because he’s gay, not because he’s black, not because he’s from Mizzou, and certainly not because a media machine threatens to assassinate the character of anyone who doesn’t make Michael Sam’s NFL career about his sexuality instead of his playing ability.
The internet is abuzz with opinions about Tony Dungy’s comments regarding whether or not he would have drafted Michael Sam. The kerfuffle is from excerpts of a statement Dungy gave as part of an article published in the Tampa Tribune.
“I wouldn’t have taken him,’’ said former Bucs and Colts coach Tony 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.’’
So, what did Dungy mean by “all of it” and “things will happen?” That’s where the assumptions begin. That’s the point at which critics have run with Dungy’s comments like a rookie kickoff returner streaking aimlessly and recklessly down the field, into the end zone, spiking the ball in self-congratulation while clueless to the fact that they stepped out of bounds 80 yards ago.
This is where incivility draws a penalty: a personal foul – unsportsmanlike conduct.
Dan Wetzel, of Yahoo Sports, wrote that Dungy’s comments displayed a “lack of courage” and went on to tie Michael Sam’s narrative to the bravery of African American atheletes like Dungy, who persevered in the face of racism in order to blaze the trail for equality. Wetzel even played theologian, claiming that Dungy’s comments display a form of hypocrisy between his faith and his actions.
In The Bleacher Report, Mike Freeman called Michael Sam, who has yet to play a single down in an NFL game, “a pioneer.” Dungy’s comments were called “remarkably ignorant and stunningly shortsighted.” Freeman also assumed homophobia in Dungy’s comments and linked Sam’s plight to that of minorities forced to push through the “sting of bigotry.”
Is it true that Dungy faced bigotry and racism in his days as a player? Yes. Here’s the difference, he didn’t leverage race, nor the bigotry he faced as a platform for his success – he let his performace on the field do that. Dungy, Lovie Smith, Herman Edwards, Bill Willis, Kenny Washington, Marion Motley, and others were pioneers because of how they performed as players and coaches.
I want Michael Sam to succeed. I want Sam to prove his critics wrong, like Drew Brees did, like Derrick Brooks did, like Warrick Dunn did. These guys were told they were too small, too slow, or otherwise not able to take the pressure of the NFL. Even Manti Teo, after a flat performance in the 2013 National Championship game and a disappointing show at the NFL combine, pushed through and secured a spot on the San Deigo Chargers, with 61 tackles last year. Teo succeeded, however, by intentionally distancing himself from the media distraction his situation created. These players proved themselves by measuring up to the standard of play on Sunday. They were treated like every other player.
At least Freeman’s piece is honest enough to point out the reality that Michael Sam, strictly on his performance as a player, aside from the interviews, photo ops, Sports Illustrated covers, ESPYs, politics, rhetoric, and social hype, may not make the Ram’s roster. But if the current trend continues, woe unto Jeff Fisher if he cuts Michael Sam.
For all its talk of equality, I’m not convinced the media actually wants equality for Michael Sam. That’s because if Michael Sam is actually held to the same standards as every other player, he may not be good enough to make the team. And that will be unacceptable to a media machine that have already called Sam “a pioneer.”
And that is the problem.
And that is why a coach like Dungy would not have drafted him.
And that is what Dungy meant by “all of it.”
On Monday afternoon while on vacation with my family, I was quite surprised to read excerpts from an interview I gave several weeks ago related to this year’s NFL Draft, and I feel compelled to clarify those remarks.
I was asked whether I would have drafted Michael Sam and I answered that would not have drafted him. I gave my honest answer, which is that I felt drafting him would bring much distraction to the team. At the time of my interview, the Oprah Winfrey reality show that was going to chronicle Michael’s first season had been announced.
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.
I have been asked all of those questions several times in the last three months and have always answered them the same way by saying that playing in the NFL is, and should be, about merit.
The best players make the team, and everyone should get the opportunity to prove whether they’re good enough to play. That’s my opinion as a coach. But those were not the questions I was asked.
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.
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.
I wish Michael Sam nothing but the best in his quest to become a star in the NFL and I am confident he will get the opportunity to show what he can do on the field.
My sincere hope is that we will be able to focus on his play and not on his sexual orientation.
Dungy’s comments were not about race, and they were not about sexuality. They were about whether or not a player is able to perform at the NFL level and the impact distractions like Sam’s situation have on the individual and team’s performance.
Dungy said, “Things will happen,” and happening they are. The biggest thing we’re seeing this week is this: The media, while criticizing Dungy’s point, is brilliantly making it for him.