Dungy wrong about Michael Sam

Ex-NFL coach should support Sam as he once supported Vick

Originally Published: July 23, 2014
By Jason Whitlock |

This column isn't written to disparage or denigrate Tony Dungy, a leader and role model I respect and admire.

But Dungy's perspective on gay NFL player Michael Sam is unhealthy for African-Americans and logically inconsistent with principles at the foundation of American culture.

"I wouldn't want to deal with all of it," Dungy told Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune, explaining why he would not have drafted Sam. "It's not going to be totally smooth ... things will happen."

America is not a totally smooth place, idea or experiment. We're a melting pot of races, ethnicities, cultures, religions and everything else. We rose to global power and maintained it because we chose to deal with all sorts of diversity challenges other countries have shied away from. Things have happened here -- things far more problematic than media "distractions" -- that we have overcome through leadership and a willingness to push beyond our comfort zone.

Great leaders and thinkers embrace a consistency in logic. Dungy's inconsistency in logic as it relates to Michael Sam and Michael Vick is baffling.

Dungy championed Vick's re-entry into the NFL from prison. According to published reports at the time, Dungy even supported Vick's decision to do a reality TV show on BET: "The Michael Vick Project."

Dungy took a public, courageous and important stand backing Vick, a convicted felon. It was a calculated decision.

"I've visited a lot of prisons," Dungy told "60 Minutes" correspondent James Brown in 2009 during a segment on Vick. "That's something I do. And I know there are a lot of young men, especially African-American young men, who need a chance, who made a mistake, who did something wrong, who had a problem, but are looking to bounce back. That's what I've always been concerned about, not just for Michael Vick, but for hundreds of guys that I've talked to."

What Dungy understands is that within American culture there is a deep-seated, opportunity-depriving hostility toward ex-cons. Our society deems them as unworthy of equality. Many people do not "want to deal with all" that goes into providing opportunities for men and women who have made mistakes because there is a pervasive fear that things won't go "totally smooth ... things will happen."

Dungy stepped up as a leader, mentored Vick and advocated for NFL franchises to deal with whatever media-driven distractions -- and there were many -- Vick's presence on the roster would present. By his own admission, Dungy did it because he recognized the larger societal impact Vick's return to the NFL could make. Dungy has been educated on the damage inflicted upon black and brown men by America's immoral and unevenly executed war on drugs and love affair with mass incarceration.

Tony Dungy and Michael Vick
AP Photo/Matt RourkePerhaps some day, Tony Dungy's need to support Michael Sam as he once supported Michael Vick will come into focus.

Criminality is a choice. Sexuality is not.

Do you understand my point?

Many religious and other socially conservative people believe homosexuality is a choice, no different from dealing drugs, cheating on your taxes or adopting a pet. And more troubling, they believe gays are unworthy of equality based on their choice. Tony Dungy promotes his Christian faith and values. He has stated repeatedly that Michael Sam deserves the opportunity to play in the NFL. But Dungy has made it equally clear he would not have the resolve to be the head coach to give Sam that opportunity.

Some part of Dungy's reluctance to fully support Sam, I believe, is based on Dungy's religious intolerance of homosexuality. It's fruit of the same poisonous superiority tree that justifies intolerance and degradation of ex-cons. Dungy's courage to lead, do the right thing and combat "controversies" ends at homosexuality. Is he OK if yours ends at dogfighting or marijuana possession?

Ex-cons are relegated to second- and third-class citizenry here in America. In some cases, they're denied jobs, credit, voting privileges, housing, association with lifelong friends and family members and anything else our politicians can think of to win voter approval. We treat ex-cons like we want them to go away (permanently).

Many Americans do the same thing to gays. They want them to go away. The suicide-attempt rate of gay teens suggests they hear them loud and clear.

I'm disappointed Tony Dungy can't tap into the same courage, logic and big-picture perspective that caused him to support Michael Vick and use them to fully support Michael Sam. Dungy does not have to disavow his religious beliefs to back Sam. The NFL, like the rest of the world, is filled with unrepentant sinners, men Dungy coached and mentored for years seemingly without regret.

Michael Sam, like Dungy, me, you and Peyton Manning, is just another sinner.

Is Sam, a marginal NFL talent, worth the trouble, the distractions? When you consider his NFL career might stop one child from contemplating suicide because his/her sexuality is outside the norm, then hell yes, Sam is worth it. No different from the way that Vick's successful re-entry into the NFL might have opened one close-minded person to the possibility that ex-cons have value.

Dungy has always tried to be bigger than football. That's why I respect and admire him. It's disappointing to see him wallow in smallness on a topic this important.

• Columnist for Fox Sports from 2010-2013
• Columnist at the Kansas City Star for 16 years
• Page 2 columnist from 2002 to 2006



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