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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Dungy way out of line on comments about Sam

First things first.

I respect Tony Dungy very much. I applaud his grace and class as a football coach, as being the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl. He always displayed a lot of class in everything he did as a pro football coach.

I ached for Dungy and his family when his son, James, committed suicide eight years ago. It was one of the most heart wrenching moments in recent memory.

With that all said, I have to say this one thing: Tony Dungy is a jackass.

I never felt that way before until the other day, when Dungy got on his soapbox and boldly stated that he would have never drafted Michael Sam, because Sam being gay would "cause such a distraction" to everyone else on the St. Louis Rams.

If that wasn't bad enough, Dungy went on the Dan Patrick radio show to clarify what he said, that Dungy "didn't agree with Sam's lifestyle."

Lifestyle? Like gay lifestyle? Like it's a style of life?

I understand that Dungy is a deeply religious man. I also realize that there are some with the religious backgrounds who truly believe that being gay or lesbian is evil and that it is a bad choice to make.

That way of thinking is not only backward. It's just wrong.

Being gay or lesbian isn't a choice. It's a way of life.

So I understand Dungy's backward thinking because of his religious beliefs. I just don't agree with it.

And if Dungy thinks that having a gay player in a locker room as a distraction, he must be brutally naïve to think he had never coached a gay player during his days as a coach with either the Steelers or the Buccaneers. In all those years as a coach, Dungy had to have mentored a gay player.

Approximately 10 percent of the world's male population is reported to be gay. Does Dungy believe that he avoided that number entirely as a football coach? It's highly unlikely.

So if there were gay players in Dungy's locker rooms in the past, were they distractions as well? Well, probably not, because those players had to remain in the closet for fear of public persecution and scorn.

Michael Sam took a stand to come out and bravely tell the world about his sexual orientation and a former football coach (who now ironically is a supposed respected football television analyst for NBC Sports) says that he is causing a distraction and that he wouldn't have drafted Sam.

I got news for you. If Michael Sam was guaranteed to become the next coming of Kevin Greene or Warren Sapp, Dungy would have snagged him in a heartbeat, distraction or not. But because Sam is not a sure-fire NFL player and a seventh round draft pick, Dungy feels inclined to say such a ridiculous thing.

Here's how much of a distraction it will be. If Michael Sam can rush the passer and collect sacks like he did when he was a member of the Missouri Tigers, then it won't matter if Sam likes to sleep with other men or sheep or donkeys or green Martians. It will be because Michael Sam is a good football player.

Sure, I have a bit of a vested interest, being a diehard Rams fan. I applauded the Rams hierarchy, namely general manager Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher, for having the guts to draft Sam and put him in a comfort zone, playing pro football just down the road from where he went to college. It all comes down to whether Sam can play or not.

As for being a distraction, there have been gay athletes before. I've personally known of several MLB players and several NBA players who were known (albeit in private circles) to be gay. Those athletes' teammates had to know that they were gay, yet there wasn't much if a distraction, because nothing was ever said about it.

I have to say that most of women's college basketball and later on, the WNBA, has featured women who are lesbian. Only a handful have officially come out and declared their sexual preferences. Distractions? Doubtful.

It's one thing for Dungy to have an opinion about gay marriage and gay people in general. It's another to express that opinion about an obviously courageous young man who has to live everyday under scrutiny.

Because Michael Sam is no longer the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. He's no longer known as the best defensive football player to come out of Missouri. He's forever known as the first openly gay pro football player, with his entire life thrust under a microscope.

And he certainly didn't need someone like Tony Dungy to be as judgmental as he was. Sam handled it well, saying, "Well, I'm lucky that Tony Dungy isn't the coach of the St. Louis Rams."

You can say that again.

There will be a day when an athlete's sexual preference isn't an issue. I hope that day comes very soon, because it really shouldn't matter one iota. All that matters is whether that athlete can play their respective sport.

For now, we all still live in a giant fishbowl, where an athlete's image can be tarnished by sexual preference. We applaud wife beaters and drug users in sports. We cheer for drunk drivers and others who have been arrested. We accept gun toting people and forgive steroid cheaters.

But a decent young man like Michael Sam declares that he's gay and instantly he's subjected to ridiculous persecution from anyone who has a narrow mind.

Frankly, it's a little sickening. And totally disheartening.
I learned some sad news today. I learned that a fellow patient/friend of mine when I was at Kessler last fall took his own life, unable to handle the daily rigors of being a paraplegic. The young man, who broke his neck in an accident last August, was just 23 years old.

We joked with each other while doing physical therapy last year about our favorite football teams, him being an Eagles fan and me with the Rams. We spent one Sunday afternoon watching football together. He was full of life and seemed content with his fate as being wheelchair-bound. Or so I believed.

God bless him. I know the great people at Kessler worked hard in trying to rehabilitate him, but sometimes, the pressures of life can become too much for a young man who had such an active, athletic existence.

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