Tony Dungy has created a controversy with the comments he made regarding Michael Sam to the Tampa Bay Tribune. According to Dungy, he would not have drafted Michael Sam because he feels it is not going to be a totally smooth transition for him moving to the NFL and that things will happen.
Michael Sam was the first openly gay player to be drafted into the National Football League by the St. Louis Rams. Bypassed by all thirty-two teams for the first six rounds, the All-American Sam was drafted in the final round of this year’s draft.
At the University of Missouri, Sam became a first team All-American and the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year. Despite these honors, Michael Sam was the 249th out of 256 players selected in this year’s draft. Much ado was made of his performance at the NFL Scouting Combine prior to the draft. Critics pointed out that he was small for his position, slow in his sprints, and below average in the strength categories.
Initially projected as a third or fourth round draft pick, his stock began to drop after a poor performance in this year’s Senior Bowl, where, because of his size, he was moved from defensive end to outside linebacker. The move to a new position with unfamiliar responsibilities hindered his performance.
However, the reason Michael Sam received notoriety to begin with was that he was the first player to announce that he was openly gay. He handled all of the inquiries and media attention extremely well, receiving positive feedback from teammates and media alike. The story took a back seat after the completion of the draft and Michael Sam was left to concentrate on the task of making the St. Louis Rams football team.
It came as somewhat of a surprise that Michael Sam found his way back into controversy with Tony Dungy’s revelation. Dungy has always been highly respected and of high moral character. He has helped many young players adjust to life as a professional. He is a very positive role model and someone who rarely creates controversy. His career is highlighted by the strong teams he built while coaching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the turn of the century and the Super Bowl he won with the Indianapolis Colts in 2007. Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl in 2003, a year after Dungy left for Indianapolis.
Just recently Dungy did some backtracking to calm the storm clouds surrounding his statement. He feels that Sam is fully qualified to play in the NFL and should be given every opportunity to do so. Being the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL, the media presence was of concern to Dungy. That concern was highlighted when it was announced when Oprah Winfrey planned to do a series of reports on his NFL journey. Those plans were canceled when it became apparent that the presence of the media at the Rams training facilities would be distracting to the entire team and coaching staff.
While the story lost headway until Dungy’s remarks with The Tampa Bay Tribune interview, its re-emergence comes at an inopportune time, just as training camps are about to open. It is a time when Michael Sam needs to concentrate on football and is best served by not having his personal life re-examined. His full focus needs to be on the job at hand, becoming a professional football player with the St. Louis Rams. Tony Dungy understands this and is trying desperately to diffuse the Michael Sam controversy he created.
Commentary by Hans Benes