Can he play? Distractions won’t be the deciding issue for Michael Sam

My latest column for the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana is on the uproar over Tony Dungy’s comments about Michael Sam.

From the column:


Excuse me, but will everyone just let Michael Sam play football for the St. Louis Rams?

The hoopla continues to be way too high for a seventh-round pick. This week, it was fueled by Tony Dungy.

The former coach made comments to the Tampa Tribune saying he would not have wanted Sam, who is gay, on his team.

“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,” Dungy said. “It’s not going to be totally smooth … things will happen.’’

After being roasted by many outlets, Dungy issued a clarification Tuesday. While stressing that his comments weren’t about Sam’s sexuality, he said:

“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.”

The statement probably won’t calm the waters for Dungy, given his religious views about homosexuals. And then there’s his role in trying to revive the career of Michael Vick after his return from jail.

Ray Ratto at sees hypocrisy, writing:

“For Dungy, who defended and even offered to mentor Michael Vick after his nationally provocative dog-fighting conviction was not “a distraction,” because he had football gifts still to be exploited. Michael Sam, though, IS a distraction because he is a seventh-round pick who may not last more than a training camp.”

Indeed, that’s the way it works in the NFL. Coaches will put up with all sorts of distractions if a player is the real deal. Vick, despite his questionable character, still had immense skills as a game-changing quarterback. Philadelphia thought he was worth the baggage that comes along with him, and for the most part, got a decent return on its gamble.

Sam, meanwhile, is a different story. Poor draft workouts saw his stock tumble, provoking questions about whether he will be a good NFL player. If teams thought he had the goods, he wouldn’t have been sitting there in the seventh round for the home-state Rams to select him. Sam could be something more, but it seems unlikely he will be a difference-maker in the NFL.

That brings in the “distraction” issue. Dungy hardly was the only person to suggest teams might not want to be part of whatever comes along with drafting Sam. There were plenty of coaches, analysts and executives who worried that the coverage for the first openly gay NFL player could be overblown, creating those dreaded distractions. Dungy merely was echoing what others were saying.


One thought on “Can he play? Distractions won’t be the deciding issue for Michael Sam

  1. Your final paragraph encapsulates the issue very well – that’s what Dungy was saying. Why the fuss? I thought sexuality was NOT supposed to be a big deal (anymore)?
    No, this is about power, and what the politically corrrect WANTED to hear in Dungy’s statements. Olberman? Who cares what he thinks? Anyone who could coin the phrase “Mashed up bag of meat with lipstick” when referring to a female counterpart who happened to disagree with him has NO moral standing. He should shut up and go back to being clever and snarky.

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