When the St. Louis Rams drafted Michael Sam, the first openly gay man to play for the National Football League, many pundits and fans cheered the pick as a solid choice. But after a controversy emerged this week, that opinion appears to have been far from unanimous.
Mr. Dungy, whose career included stints with the Indianapolis Colts and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, told the newspaper: “I wouldn’t want to deal with all of it. It’s not going to be totally smooth," adding, "things will happen.”
While most sports reporters criticized the former coach – including ESPN anchor Keith Olbermann in a blistering broadcast Tuesday – many fans flooded sports sites with strongly-worded support for Dungy's view.
"This article is just stupid! I wish people would stop equating civil rights with this gay agenda!! IT'S NOT THE SAME," wrote user "MsMahogany2u" on Yahoo Sports, receiving about 730 likes and 110 dislikes.
"Gone are the days where someone told you their honest opinion on a cause," wrote Matt McRimmon, in a comment that garnered more than a thousand likes as the most approved comment on ESPN's web site. Mr. McRimmon, who identified himself as a US Navy corpsman, told a critic to "lead the parade on this matter."
"Am I the only one who doesn’t take issue with his comments," wrote user rextraordinaire on NBC Sports. "I had more respect for Dungy before he put out this PC statement," said another, in apparent reference to Dungy's new explanation of his comments released Tuesday.
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.
Sam, the the Southeastern Conference’s All-American defensive player of the year, shrugged off the former coach's comments in a short conversation with Nick Wagoner, ESPN's correspondent for the Rams.
This isn't Dungy's first run-in with gay-rights supporters and their friends in the media. In the past, he has faulted President Obama for backing same-sex marriage. Last year, he criticized NBA player Jason Collins' decision to come out.
As for Sam, the Bleacher Report notes that whatever issues he encounters off the field may be mild compared to what he experiences in the locker room.
The locker room has proven hostile to other minorities. Earlier this year, the NFL commissioned a study to look into claims of racist bullying and harassment lodged by black players on the Miami Dolphins. The report bore out those allegations, but did not clearly articulate a solution: "the treatment of [Dolphins player] Jonathan Martin," the report concluded, "and others in the Miami Dolphins organization at times was offensive and unacceptable in any environment, including the world professional football players inhabit."