Tuesday, July 22, 2014

No benefit of the doubt

I'd be hard pressed to think of a classier, more humble human being than former NFL coach Tony Dungy. If you go back and find what others had to say about him during his 13-year head coaching tenure (six seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, seven with the Indianapolis Colts) and immediately upon his retirement after the 2008 season, the voluminous praise was often effusive. Whether it was his unabashed faith in Jesus Christ, his indomitable strength upon the suicide of his 19-year old son or his being able to walk away from a lucrative coaching career six years ago and not look back, Dungy has as few detractors as one can have while functioning in the public eye.

With all that said, not even Dungy himself can be given the benefit of the doubt when speaking of someone in the new "protected class."

Esteemed NFL coach turned NBC analyst Tony Dungy is taking fire for saying he would not have drafted Michael Sam, the league’s first openly gay player.

In an interview with the Tampa Tribune published Sunday, the former coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts said he would have passed on Sam. "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,” Dungy said.

Dungy went on to say, “It’s not going to be totally smooth … things will happen.’’

Naturally there were those who immediately cited Dungy as being a "coward" or for being in favor of "Jim Crow-type" laws. Still others are quick to point out Dungy's Christian faith, which means he must be an intolerant bigot.

In a separate interview, Dungy attempted to clarify his comments.

"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."

I'm certain Sam himself would prefer to focus solely on making the Rams' roster as opposed to answering questions about his lifestyle. After all, how many seventh round picks are even approached by media members in an NFL training camp? Unless such players vastly outperform their draft status, it's likely their names are hardly known. I know I sure don't recall a time where such a late round draft pick was approached with an opportunity to star in a reality TV show.

Another issue that cropped up was the fact Dungy advocated for Michael Vick's return to the NFL after he served jail time for organizing illegal dog fighting. Obviously Vick being signed by by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009 caused a significant distraction, not only due to throngs of media but also with the vast presence of animal rights protesters. The difference being that Vick had already proved himself as an all-pro caliber player prior to his 2007 conviction. The Eagles' philosophy was they were willing to endure distractions if Vick could show just a semblance of what he had the first six seasons of his career (he made the Pro Bowl three times). With Sam being rated as only the 14th best defensive end leading up to this past May's NFL draft, I wouldn't be surprised if many other NFL organizations echoed Dungy's sentiments. Above all else, team executives and coaches are focused solely on the business at hand: winning.

In the end, this whole flap further emphasizes what I've been saying for months now. That is, even the perception of a moral objection to homosexuality results in knee jerk hysteria.

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