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Saturday, Sep 20, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Dungy’s comments rooted in faith, and that’s his right

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Published:   |   Updated: July 24, 2014 at 02:01 PM

One thing I am sure about is that Tony Dungy is not a homophobe, as many national news outlets have implied this week.

Since the country is parsing Dungy’s every word since his comments in The Tampa Tribune about Michael Sam, the first openly gay player to be drafted into the National Football League, it’s important to keep in mind exactly what we’re talking about.

Homophobia is defined by the World English Dictionary as “intense hatred or fear of homosexuals or homosexuality.”

Tony Dungy does not hate. I seriously doubt he is afraid. In this town, we know Tony Dungy to be an honorable and decent man of deep religious faith. He also has a long history of statements that would not be considered pro-gay.

What we really need is context, and that requires everyone on both sides of this issue to stand down from the overheated rhetoric. The ironic part of this debate is that’s it’s all about tolerance. Yet the reaction to Dungy and anyone who sides with him has been anything but tolerant.

That especially includes motor-mouth talk-show host Keith Olbermann, who labeled Dungy “The Worst Person in the Sports World” for saying he wouldn’t have drafted Sam because of the “distractions” it would cause.

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Obviously, that was surprising coming from Dungy — especially given his status as the first African-American coach to win the Super Bowl. We like to think of him as the voice for the voiceless and a champion for those rejected by society. He preaches hope in prisons. He advocates for families. He lives what he believes.

But you balance that against the tepid statement issued Tuesday on the NBC Sports website that quoted Dungy saying, “I do not believe Michael’s sexual orientation will be a distraction to his teammates or his organization.”

He added that the media attention — not Sam’s sexual orientation — is the real problem.

Since Dungy works for NBC Sports as a pro football analyst, I’m guessing that statement was heavily vetted by his employer. More telling was Dungy’s Facebook post late Tuesday where he said, “Appreciate everyone who has communicated support, especially the Christian community. Thanks!”

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Yeah, let’s go there, since I believe his religion is really the heart of this issue.

For many conservative Christians, and Dungy is one, homosexuality is a line they won’t cross. Just so we’re clear, I don’t agree with this line of thinking and believe they’re on the wrong side of history, but they have a lot of Holy Scripture to back them up.

I’ve heard it said by many people of faith that homosexuality is a choice, and I reject that. If you believe people are what they were born to be, then Michael Sam and others aren’t “distractions.” They’re just people who should be judged by the same standard as anyone else.

Maybe Sam makes the final roster of the St. Louis Rams, maybe not. Many think he is a marginal NFL prospect. That’s why it would be interesting to hear if Dungy or any other coach would believe a gay player with first-round ability would be worth the “distraction.”

Let’s face it, NFL coaches make a deal with the devil all the time, so to speak, if a player is good enough, lest we forget about Aaron Hernandez and others like him.

So let’s stop the double-talk, shall we?

I wish Dungy had been more upfront in his prepared statement after the controversy exploded. I believe his faith guides everything he does, and that it played a major role in his comments about Sam.

I can disagree with someone and still respect them. It’s especially easy when that someone is Tony Dungy.

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