Ex-NFL coachTony Dungy was criticized for saying he never would’ve drafted Michael Sam — the league’s first openly gay player. Now Dungy says he regrets the way his comments were taken.
The Super Bowl-winning coach and current NBC football analyst was quoted on Sunday as saying he wouldn’t have wanted a distraction of that magnitude for his team. But after a harsh and immediate public backlash, Dungy released a new statement Tuesday in an attempt to clarify his position.
“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, Dungy said in the statement first released through Pro Football Talk, a website run by his employer, NBC Sports.
“I do not believe Michael’s sexual orientation will be a distraction to his teammates or his organization. I do, however, believe that the media attention that comes with it will 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.”
Dungy’s new statement emphasizes that his earlier comments, published in the Sunday edition of The Tampa Tribune, were made weeks ago, back when circumstances were (in his estimation) different. “At the time of my interview,” he said, “the Oprah Winfrey reality show that was going to chronicle Michael’s first season had been announced.”
See also: OWN Postpones Michael Sam Reality Series
Dungy, who became the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl back in 2007, stopped short of retracting his original statement or flat-out apologizing, however.
“I wouldn’t have taken him,” Dungy had told the newspaper. “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.”
The media’s response was quick.
“[T]his is a disappointing stance from the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl who dealt with racially-based backlash for he and his family at times,” responded Will Brinston of CBS Sports. “Dungy literally wrote (the foreward of) the book pushing for “Equal Coaching Opportunity in the NFL.”
Outspoken TV analyst Keith Olbermann took Dungy to task later Monday evening.
“I have a problem believing Tony Dungy’s sincerity in this one,” said Olbermann on his ESPN2 show. ‘I wouldn’t want to deal with it, things will happen,’ is remarkably similar to what football coaches and owners said until 1946 about players who looked like Tony Dungy. And it’s remarkably similar to what NFL owners said until 1989 about guys who wanted to become NFL head coaches who look like Tony Dungy.”
Sam, who the St. Louis Rams drafted 249th overall in May, is still competing to make his team’s final roster. The Rams kick-off their 2014 season againt the New Orleans Saints on Friday, Aug. 8, with or without him.
Dungy’s full statement is below:
“On Monday afternoon while on vacation with my family, I was quite surprised to read excerpts from an interview I gave several weeks ago related to this year’s NFL Draft, and I feel compelled to clarify those remarks.
I was asked whether I would have drafted Michael Sam and I answered that I would not have drafted him. 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.
I was not asked whether or not Michael Sam deserves an opportunity to play in the NFL. He absolutely does.
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.
I have been asked all of those questions several times in the last three months and have always answered them the same way–by saying that 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. 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.
I do not believe Michael’s sexual orientation will be a distraction to his teammates or his organization.
I do, however, believe that the media attention that comes with it will 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.
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.”