Commentary: Is Tony Dungy Too Candid About Michael Sam?

Former NFL coach says gay defensive end will face challenges in NFL locker room.

Posted: 07/23/2014 01:03 PM EDT
Tony Dungy

The media are obsessed with rookie defensive end Michael Sam, and Sam will be discussed often once NFL summer camps start and even more so should he make the St. Louis Rams’ roster.

Yet people are either misguided or naïve if they see Sam’s transition from gay college player to gay NFL player going without a hitch. For, in a league dominated by Black athletes, homosexuality will not find refuge. Black men and their Baptist upbringing put the 24-year-old Sam and the Rams in an uncomfortable tango with political correctness.

Anybody who thinks to the contrary didn’t listen closely to what Tony Dungy, a former coach who’s now an NFL analyst, said about Sam in an interview with The Tampa Tribune.

"I wouldn’t have taken him,’’ Dungy told The Tribune. "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."

Why Dungy decided to go there, who can say, but he had to know his comments would serve as kindling for an issue that will be a white-hot topic around the NFL.

The hard truth is he’s right: It won’t be smooth for Sam and the Rams. It’s not possible for a locker room of testosterone-fueled athletes to be filled with only men who accept homosexuality. It only takes one off-color comment to create a lawsuit.

Sam probably has heard all of those comments before, even at Missouri, where his teammates were cool with his sexuality.

College campuses tend to be places where men and women are more open; they don’t stress about the small stuff when they have the pressure of getting that bachelor’s degree – and paying back those hefty college debts – weighing on their minds.

On most public campuses, homosexuality finds little opposition. Gay and lesbian organizations are mainstream there. To students, “live and let live” seems to be the overarching philosophy that governs behavior.

But college is just a microcosm of America; it is not the whole of America. And even those of us who embrace “live and let live” thinking know that, if we are a majority, ours is a slender one.

For homosexuality still faces criticism and hatred; millions still view it as an abomination – a sin in God’s eyes.

In what one writer wrongly called a stunning lack of courage, Dungy wasn’t looking at Sam in a sense so broad. No, Dungy was relying on his decades of experience in the NFL to tell what is, for some people, a truth they would rather not consider: Sam won’t fit seamlessly into a locker room.

Sam seems to understand that fact, too. He’s said as much when he’s talked about the NFL and his dream of playing for pay. But talk and reality are from different ends of the spectrum, and which end will represent Sam’s place in an NFL team’s locker room, no one can say just yet.

Maybe his acceptance will be without incident, but anybody who’s walked into a smelly, stuffy locker room of half-naked men has heard the crude, sexist and utterly uncouth language. The concern is whether such language will create a hostile work environment.

Dungy seemed to suggest it might, which is why he said he would never have drafted Sam.

Is Dungy wrong for saying what he sees as the truth? No, but you have to hope, sexuality notwithstanding, that teammates will judge Sam by what he can do on the field and not by what he does off it.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher has a challenge ahead of him, because as open-minded as some of his players claim they are to having a gay man in the locker room, the Rams would be a decidedly un-American workplace to have 100 percent of their employees in support of Sam’s presence.

That’s not an America that Dungy can get his mind around – certainly not in this era of shock jocks and public discord.

 The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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 (Photo: Joe Corrigan/Getty Images)

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