Former NFL coach Tony Dungy says he wouldn’t have taken Michael Sam in the draft. The comments are being scrutinized because Sam is the first openly gay player to be drafted by a team. On Monday, the Super Bowl winning coach told the Tampa Tribune that the reasons he wouldn’t have selected Sam is because of the potential distractions that Sam’s sexuality may present.
Sam made history in May when he was selected in the seventh round by the St. Louis Rams. So far, Rams coaches and players have embraced Sam as a football player. Dungy feels the potential social impact was not worth taking a chance on Sam. He told the Tribune, “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.”
Sam, a recent recipient of the Arthur Ashe Award For Courage at this year’s ESPYs, knows and is prepared for things not to go exactly smooth. He wants to be defined for what he does on the field and not for what he does in his private. But being the first openly gay player in the NFL, the media circus surrounding him is going to be there. Coaches and players on the Rams roster are prepared for those things Dungy says will happen.
Rams wide receiver T.J. Moe, who is also a former teammate of Michael Sam at Missouri, says Sam will be received like any other player on the roster. He said, “There’s a 90-man roster right now. It doesn’t go 89, and then Michael Sam’s over there – this is the gay team, this is the straight team. Michael Sam is on this team and he’s treated just like anyone else.”
Unfortunately not every player will see it that way, which is part of what Dungy was talking about and something Sam already recognizes. What is disappointing about Dungy’s stance is that he was the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl. He has dealt with racial issues and was able to display his value as an NFL coach because he was given the opportunity. Sam will have to break down his own barriers and that is something Dungy should be familiar with.
Dungy also knows distractions come in many forms in the NFL. There are players who bring controversy for a number of reasons, and most of those involve very negative circumstances. Tony Dungy certainly is allowed to have his stance on sexuality, but he should understand the courage of Sam as an individual and not just be instantly viewed as a distraction.