Voicing an Opinion without Misleading Opinions: My Opinion on Tony Dungy’s Remarks Hassle

Have you heard the latest trend in media reporting?  It seems you can’t not-hire someone who’s black, gay or a woman without it being BECAUSE they’re black, gay, or a woman.  You can’t even voice an opinion giving a clear reason why you’d not hire that person – it has to be about something you’re discriminating against, not about the problems that would be associated with that individual.

The thing making me think this way is the Tony Dungy comments regarding Micheal Sam the last two days.  For those not following the story:  In a comment made to the Tampa Bay Tribune about the recent NFL Draft published on Sunday, Tony Dungy said:

“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.”

I first read – and commented – on the issue on the CBSSports.com page – if you want to dig into the 6900 comments to try to find mine, be my guest.  (I should be somewhere between 3700-3900, allowing for responses to responses.)  I did also comment on my facebook page, however, stating:

Just read an article on Tony Dungy’s statements about how he’d not have picked Micheal Sam in the NFL draft, and I can respect his opinion. We’ve come a long way from segregated leagues and racism in Sports, but there’s still a lot of bigotry and bullying going on, as last year’s incident leading to the departure of Richie Incognito from the Miami Dolphins demonstrated. The problem when you break new ground and fight for equality and respect when you’re different than what some can accept is that, apart from the distraction surrounding the player, you have to contend with those who can not accept what you are – something that creates a headache/nightmare for those around you, such as your coach. Dungy already dealt with this once for himself, so I could understand his desire not to deal with it twice. Sometimes what we assume of as bigotry is simply honesty in admitting what you can/can not handle, and I think it’s equally as brave to admit that maybe you’re not the best person for a particular situation than to step up now only to back away later.

My opinion on the matter hasn’t changed – to me, it’s the media making a mountain out of a molehole, blowing something out of proportion.  Dungy gave a clear, simple, honest response about a situation that had no bias or hatred towards Micheal Sam or his sexuality.

Unfortunately, the media’s making something out of nothing – and people are making a big stink of it.

On the one side, you have his supporters, many of whom are either Christian or homophobic, commenting on these forums or as articles themselves.  Their support draws from these two areas, about how homosexuality is a sin against God and is unnatural, and are taking Dungy’s comments as such – not surprising, since Dungy is a Christian.  The worst was probably Rush Limbaugh’s opinion, which (sadly) was somewhat accurate in how the Rams are a social experiment this year but was full of his usual subtext.

Then there’s the other side, who feel that Dungy’s Christian views are getting in the way, or that he is a homophobe.  Much like how there are Democratic supporters who feel that the biggest reason Obama is having problems is because he’s black, there are people who feel that Dungy is bigoted in his views, and that no one can or should voice an opinion of descent against Micheal Sam.  The Fumble is among those voices, arguing against his support of Micheal Vick and Marvin Harrison – both of whose major problems came AFTER they were NFL players.

It’s become so bad, in fact, that yesterday Dungy had to release a press statement (which I read about through FOXSports.com) about his comments:

On Monday afternoon while on vacation with my family, I was quite surprised to read excerpts from an interview I gave several weeks ago related to this year’s NFL Draft, and I feel compelled to clarify those remarks.

I was asked whether I would have drafted Michael Sam and I answered that would not have drafted him. I gave my honest answer, which is that I felt drafting him would bring much distraction to the team. At the time of my interview, the Oprah Winfrey reality show that was going to chronicle Michael’s first season had been announced.

I was not asked whether or not Michael Sam deserves an opportunity to play in the NFL. He absolutely does.

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.

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.

This statement wasn’t enough to quiet some sites and people – SBNation titled one of their articles, “Tony Dungy should stop talking about Michael Sam.”  Keith Obermann, meanwhile, has commented that Dungy is “The worst person in the world” right now.

Micheal Sam, for the most part, has kept it respectful, according to the Sporting News, while Jason Collins, another gay athlete in the NBA, commented about certain “Code words” in a recent Youtube video.

To me, however, all of this is stupid and wrong on so many levels it’s approaching ridiculousness.

First, just because he supported and mentored Micheal Vick when he was released from jail and returned to the NFL, and just because he supported Marvin Harrison then, how do you know he still would support them today?  Furthermore, how do you know he would/would not draft them where they up for the draft today, knowing what he knows now?  It’s easy to call someone a hypocrite without taking into account that those experiences may have changed his mind about them, or that, while he may/did help and support them as NFL players, he wouldn’t have done the same were they college players.  It’s easy to use the past against someone – it’s difficult to understand what they took away from those experiences, however.

Second, and I hate to break the news to you:  Correlating opposition to same-sex marriage as homophobia or hatred is ignorant and often inaccurate.  There are plenty of people I know who are Christians and have friends who are gay, yet feel that marriage is a unique union that solely exists between people of the opposite sex.  There’s no hatred involved, just a deeper respect in their interpretation of what the Holy Bible says.  Saying that Dungy’s support of an organization against Gay Marriage is proof of his inability to work with gay people isn’t always an accurate way to assess a situation.

Third, and I’ve mentioned this before:  Dungy didn’t say anything offensive.  By Sam choosing to announce he sexuality before the NFL Draft, he opened a can of worms that will create problems – mainly, unwanted attention.  Dungy’s not an idiot:  he knows how this attention will affect the team, both on and off the field, and he knows how he works.  When you’re dealing with proven elements that have shown resilience to such problems as we well as excellent performance in the game, it’s easier to stand by someone and support them – not as easy with someone who’s a relative unknown.  Dungy didn’t mention any hatred or malice:  He stated that he knew what Sam was bringing to the table, and knew he wouldn’t have wanted it.  That’s not bigoted at all.

Furthermore – and I have to ask this – what does his sexuality have to do with the game?  Sure, it might be something necessary and important for the management and doctors to know (if he gets injured or, as the press has shown involving Micheal Sam, the press pesters him about it), but does it affect how he runs, how he tackles, or how he plays the game?   What gay people like Micheal Sam fail to realize, as do the media that makes such a stink about these matters, is that, unlike age or gender which are mostly, if not completely, visible on the outside, THEY DON’T HAVE TO SAY ANYTHING UNLESS SOMETHING MAJOR HAPPENS.  We’ve matured as a society past the point of connecting gay people to AIDS, or have to worry about players like Earvin “Magic” Johnson risking injury to other players who might contract the disease through him.  If Sam were on the Chicago Bears (the team I root for) the only thing that would matter is how he played in the last game – and I’d only want to trade or fire him if his performance was consistently bad.  (I would say “if he sucked” – something I normally say about someone doing a bad job – but in this case the language really is important.)

The thing that concerns me the most, especially with my career and life goals and in regards to this incident, is the perception of what you say to the world versus how it is interpreted.   As a nobody I can say and do as I want, and the only worries I’ll need to consider with the consequences are from my current and future employers and clients.  Were I to be more famous, however, I’d have to be more careful and considerate, as Dungy had tried being here.  Interpretation is important, though, because I shouldn’t have to worry that my choice in firing or hiring someone is going to result in my job security or bank being compromised for it.  Furthermore, I shouldn’t have to worry that someone else is going to interpret my actions as being anything but those actions:  That, if I choose not to hire someone, it’s not because of something that they are, but because I found the best person for the job.  Likewise, if I fire someone, it has nothing to do with anything more than the job itself.  My views as a Christian, a white man, or how famous I am should not matter, nor should any comments I make to the such matter.

I still respect Dungy’s remarks, and feel he was right to say them.  This concept that we need to tiptoe/babystep around everything to avoid offending people and avoid being honest is getting to be annoying and idiotic.  No one should be shamed for voicing dissent on a situation that they know will be ugly, even if you’re a former head coach of the team that beat your team a few Superbowls back.

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