Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Inside Slant: Wasted breath on Tony Dungy
By Kevin Seifert
Tony Dungy has been quoted for two days this week about St. Louis Rams defensive end Michael Sam, the first openly gay man to be drafted by an NFL team. His words have made little sense, and, worse, they have injected fresh bile into the conversation just as training camps open across the league.
I know the first reaction is to pile on Dungy, tear him to shreds and then look for the next social offender. Emotions are raw and intense. As cathartic as it might feel, however, it's not going to change anything. These days, few converts are won via criticism, pressure or otherwise compelling conformity. I suggest an alternative, albeit boring, approach.
Tony Dungy clarified his remarks on Tuesday, saying increased media attention is what makes Michael Sam a "distraction."
The only way that Sam will elevate the NFL workplace is to demonstrate, through the course of the 2014 season, that it really isn't a big deal for an openly gay man to play professional football. That can only come with time, and as much as we would like to drown out bigotry with well-intended vitriol, it is the only way.
The background: In response to a Tampa Tribune question about Sam, Dungy was quoted Sunday saying he wouldn't want to deal with "all of it" and predicted "things will happen." On Tuesday, he clarified that his concerns extended only to a media distraction and were unrelated to what Dungy called Sam's "sexual orientation."
Dungy, of course, has a long history of association with ideas that run counter to equal rights for gays and lesbians. Most notable was his support for a group that worked against efforts to achieve marriage equality in Indiana. So it's going to be difficult for Dungy to delineate between his personal views and football philosophy in this instance.
Regardless of the source of his concern, however, Dungy is quite clearly overstating the consequences of having Sam on a roster. Media attention is more distracting for fans and reporters than it is for coaches or players. In a way, however, it's a good thing to get his objection on the record -- so that it can later be debunked.
Dungy (and assuredly others) think there will be issues with a gay player in the NFL? Fine. Step aside and let someone else build the template.
Ultimately, Sam was drafted by a team with leaders -- coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead -- who have embraced that idea. By all accounts, the Rams are committed to providing Sam a fair and equitable platform simply to play football. If all goes well this season, those who share Dungy's concerns will be faced with an actual template -- real, undeniable proof -- that counters their assumptions and projections.
In the end, there is a difference between bullied and organic change. I don't think we'll get anywhere by shouting down those who are skeptical. Here is a novel concept: Simply show them how it's done. With any luck, Dungy will have no choice but to revise his views in the face of facts the Rams will prove with Michael Sam this season -- not because he was shouted down, but because he was shown the light.