First of all, let me provide some background on this situation so that you know where I am coming from. I like Tony Dungy. I’ve read one of his books, I like the Tampa 2 defense, and I think his demeanor on the football field drips of old school class. It should also be known that like myself, Dungy is a professing Christian. Yet it is not my Christian brotherhood which spurs this post, it’s a desire for clarity and objectivity.
In case you haven’t heard, Tony Dungy is taking a lot of heat lately after saying that he wouldn’t draft Missouri defensive end, Michael Sam. Sam was the first openly gay NFL player to be drafted earlier this spring. In light of this article, which was posted in the Tampa Tribune, the social media world has buffed, polished, and presented the silver platter on which they demand Dungy’s head. But here is where I want to throw my first flag. Is Dungy really a bigot? Is he really hypocritical because he himself is a minority as an African America NFL Coach? Or is he just responding to a question posed by a reporter in an honest way? Secondly was he responding in this way because he is a Christian, or is he responding this way because he is a realist?
What Dungy didn’t say was, “I wouldn’t have drafted him because I don’t think homosexuals should play in the NFL.” (In fact in a more recent interview Dungy said the opposite) If that was the case, the outrage would have more weight. As a Christian myself, I don’t care that Sam is a homosexual playing football. It makes no difference to me at a player level. I don’t agree with his lifestyle, one I think the Bible is clear on, yet I don’t think it excludes him from the NFL, nor should it. But where I myself as a football fan, and Dungy as a former NFL coach see the issue is on the simple level of distraction.
We saw many former NFL personnel say similar things of Jonny Manziel out of Texas A&M. Yet I don’t think it’s fair to compare Sam to Manziel. Manziel is out making calls on his money phone, and flipping birds on social media. Sam is not a distraction in the same way Manziel is. Yet because of who Sam is, and how he lives his life, he carried an innate story, one which will be of great spotlight this year. It’s not just Christians who say that, history tells us this is true. Specifically when we look at, dare I say it, Tim Tebow.
Now, for the same reason I am not making this about Sam’s homosexuality, I don’t want to make this about Tebow’s Christianity. What I want to look at, for objectivity sake, is the media circus that is gathered around both. Both Tebow and Sam are good kids who have avoided the thuggish and immature headlines that so many young players fall into.
They both were also considered “tweeners” at their position. Sam is a little undersized to be a true defensive end and draft critics were uncertain as to how he would pan out simply on a talent level. Tebow played a highly unconventional game at quarterback, and draft analysts had similar concerns.
When we look at recent history, both with Tebow’s draft, and his recent free agency, the media was full of former NFL personnel (like Dungy) saying that the circus which surrounded Tebow was not worth the roster spot. This was agreed upon by many people, including myself. The people who said such things were not radical opponents of Christianity. There was no call for a Holy War. It was a simple observation taking into consideration the business of the NFL. The same is true with Sam. Dungy said he wouldn’t have wanted the hype, and he is entitled to his position, just like the rest of us are. Dungy’s comments are not biased, bigoted or off-base. In fact the Rams have already had to wade through the awkward situation of the Oprah Winfrey Network having an arrangement with Sam to do a documentary on his NFL life, an agreement made without the Ram’s knowledge.
It also bears mentioning that Dungy mentioned the hypothetical situation that he wouldn’t draft Sam. There are 31 other General Managers in the NFL who didn’t draft Sam. Where is the outcry for their jobs? Unlike Dungy they had the opportunity to, and they didn’t. Certainly the actuality of their crime is greater than Dungy’s. Or is it because they are not Christian? Does the absence of a faith justify their actions, and the presence of it condemn Dungy’s? If so then I have to ask: Who is it that is wrestling with tolerance? The moral of the story is this: Clarity and objective heads rarely prevail in today’s media, and in the same way Sam’s lifestyle makes him a target for headlines, so does Dungy’s faith. We as Christians need to push for clarity, yet expect the convolution.
Update: Today (7/22/14), Tony Dungy responded to some of the backlash, clarifying the time frame of his interview, and the context of his questions. This article also gives some clarification from Dungy as to what he was really saying.