A day after Tony Dungy was largely skewered for saying he would not have drafted openly gay linebacker Michael Sam, the former NFL coach clarified his comments and provided context.
Dungy said Tuesday that Sam deserves an opportunity to play in the NFL. His intial concern was with the media distraction that Sam’s presence would cause as he tried to make the roster.
The NBC analyst was criticized after saying in the Tribune story, “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.”
Dungy issued a statement Tuesday in an attempt to explain what he called an “honest answer” to a question.
“I was not asked whether or not Michael Sam deserves an opportunity to play in the NFL. He absolutely does,” said Dungy, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts coach. “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.”
Sam was selected in the seventh round in May by the St. Louis Rams. The former University of Missouri player was scheduled to arrive in the Rams’ training camp on Tuesday.
Dungy is widely known for his religious beliefs. While coaching the Colts in 2007, he openly supported a proposed gay-marriage ban.