Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy told the Tampa Tribune that he would not have taken Michael Sam on board his team because of the distractions surrounding the University of Missouri alum’s sexuality.
“I wouldn’t have taken him,” said Dungy, who is now an in-studio analyst for NBC’s Sunday Night Football. “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.”
Dungy did not elaborate on what “things” may occur.
Sam, a former Missouri defensive end and the reigning co-Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year, became the first openly gay player drafted into the NFL. Sam was a first-team All-American. After he publicly disclosed his sexual orientation in mid-February and struggled at the NFL combine, his stock fell. He eventually was drafted 249th overall, with the 34th pick in the seventh round, by the Rams.
Rams general manager Les Snead and coach Jeff Fisher seem to be aware of the history being made and, far from shying away, understand the increased scrutiny Sam brings to the organization.
Though Dungy said Sam should have a chance to play, in 2007 he said he “embraced” Indiana’s proposed ban on same-sex marriage.
Since the original story was released, Dungy has released a statement explaining his remarks, adding that the interview was done several weeks ago.
“I was asked whether I would have drafted Michael Sam and I answered that would not have drafted him,” the statement reads. “I gave my honest answer, which is that I felt drafting him would bring much distraction to the team. At the time of my interview, the Oprah Winfrey reality show that was going to chronicle Michael’s first season had been announced.”
He went on to discuss Sam’s career in the NFL and with the Rams.
“I was not asked whether or not Michael Sam deserves an opportunity to play in the NFL. He absolutely does,” he said. “I was not asked whether his sexual orientation should play a part in the evaluation process. It should not. I was not asked whether I would have a problem having Michael Sam on my team. I would not.”
Dungy goes on to say that he has been asked those questions many times and have always answered the same way by saying “playing in the NFL is, and should be, about merit.”
“The best players make the team, and everyone should get the opportunity to prove whether they’re good enough to play,” Dungy said. “That’s my opinion as a coach. But those were not the questions I was asked.
“What I was asked about was my philosophy of drafting, a philosophy that was developed over the years, which was to minimize distractions for my teams.”
Sam’s sexual orientation, Dungy explained, won’t be a distraction to his teammates or the Rams organization. The media attention that could surround it, however, can be a distraction.
“Unfortunately we are all seeing this play out now, and I feel badly that my remarks played a role in the distraction,” he said. “I wish Michael Sam nothing but the best in his quest to become a star in the NFL and I am confident he will get the opportunity to show what he can do on the field.
“My sincere hope is that we will be able to focus on his play and not on his sexual orientation.”
A day after Dungy tried to explain his comments, Sam had a chance to react.
“Thank god he wasn’t the St. Louis Rams coach,” Sam joked to the media. “But I have a great respect for Coach Dungy, and like everyone in America, everyone is entitled to their own opinions. My focus is on making this team. I’m so excited to be back with the guys. Football’s fun.”