Let me begin by saying that I like Tony Dungy, and generally find his views and observations interesting and thought-provoking. Perhaps it is because I think highly of him that I was so surprised by his recent comments about the first openly gay, soon-to-be NFL player Michael Sam:
“I wouldn’t have taken him. 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.”
Personally, I am happy to see gay athletes feeling more comfortable than ever “coming out,” as I have worked with countless closeted gay athletes throughout my career who have dealt with mood and anxiety issues relating to the stress of keeping their secrets hidden. I’m also firmly of the belief that people do not choose to be gay, and I again base this opinion on not having one single gay athlete ever tell me that being gay was any kind of choice. In fact, the opposite has occurred every time — athletes have told me they have always known they were different, but had trouble understanding their sexuality.
When I watched Michael Sam’s emotional speech at the 2014 ESPY Awards show, I couldn’t help but applaud him for having the courage to live his life as an openly gay man. Sam spoke eloquently and openly, and his brave actions will no doubt open doors for future gay people (not just athletes) and give them the support and courage to live a life that’s true to them. Man, what a powerful speech, and one I won’t forget any time soon.
Still, even with all the recent progress, there are some people who do not support gay athletes, nor do they accept their lifestyle. Tony Dungy may not be a gay “hater,” but his comments certainly didn’t help Michael Sam — or any other gay athlete longing to simply have the same fair and even playing field as straight athletes. Dungy claims Sam should have a chance to play, yet he himself wouldn’t draft him and wouldn’t deal with it — my question is what would happen if everyone thought like Dungy?? Not only would Michael Sam never have a chance to play professional football, but no gay athlete would be able to play sports.
If you believe that being gay is something a person is born to be, then Dungy’s comments are no different than someone choosing to not select a player based on skin color, religion, or ethnicity. If, on the other hand, you believe that being gay is a choice (and a bad choice at that), then you are still way behind the curve when it comes to 2014 and treating all people with dignity and respect — including those who you don’t agree with when it comes to personal life decisions. In either case, Tony Dungy’s comments didn’t help anyone, and for a recognized, respected sports leader this is one time where I believe he fell terribly short living up to his role model status.