By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) For whatever reason, Tony Dungy is a powerful man. No longer an NFL head coach, he now inhabits a lofty, unique spot as an amalgam of studio analyst, league consultant and televangelist, and he always seems to become involved in pro football’s big story of the day.
He is also a bigot, aligning vocally against marriage equality and homosexuality itself in a way consistent with his kind of retail-level religiosity that sells thousands of poorly written books to stupid people. Yesterday, he made it clear that Michael Sam, the Rams’ draft pick trying to become the NFL’s first openly gay player, would be unwelcome on his team.
“I wouldn’t have taken him,” Dungy told the Tampa Tribune. “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.”
He didn’t say what “things,” nor did he explain why anything would occur on a properly coached team. When the Miami Dolphins were the subject of examination during the Richie Incognito workplace-harassment scandal, Dungy was quite clear on how things work. “You have to have respect for your fellow players,” he said. “It has to start in the management. It has to start with the coaches and general manager creating a safe environment, and the players have to carry it on from there.”
“I’m not sure what happens in the Dolphins’ locker room, but what you have to have is the head coach and general manager setting the tone, setting the agenda, and then the player leadership has to make sure that’s carried out.”
Except not when any of it applies to a gay man. Dungy either believes he’s incapable of controlling his team to the point of protecting a player, or he is saying he would not choose to do so because he would want “things” to happen. Either the coach is in control or he is not. If he is, as Dungy says, then there should be no issues. Here is Colonel Jessup under cross-examination, insisting on the strength of the chain of his command to the point that it indicts him.
And when it comes to having to “deal with all of it,” Dungy has gone out of his way to use his public position to embrace two of the league’s most polarizing players. Before Tim Tebow was drafted, Dungy said “I think he’s going to be a great player in the NFL,” saying he would select him in the top 10. Years later he still supported Tebow in his quest to find employment, writing that, “The Lord has a good spot for you. He’s going to give you the right situation. Wait for the Lord to show you that team and be ready to go.”
The Lord is a far better evaluator of quarterbacking than Dungy, as he apparently saw the same astonishingly bad passing as the rest of us and showed Tebow the door. No team wanted the circus in town for somebody who can’t throw.
Dungy could certainly deal with Michael Vick, too, becoming his full-time mentor and spiritual guru and spokesman for his return from prison, telling the world that Vick deserved a chance and that any distraction wasn’t too much for a locker room. This role as official re-sanitizer of wayward talent is something Dungy seems to relish, having also slapped his godly seal of approval on LeGarrette Blount so the former Oregon back could sign with the Titans in 2010.
Blount’s college coach has also been the lucky recipient of Dungy’s fatherly wisdom, after Eagles receiver Riley Cooper was caught on tape tossing around the n-word at a Kenny Chesney concert. Coach Chip Kelly cared enough about what Dungy thought to seek his counsel, and Dungy said, “I told him to trust his instincts. He can use this as a teaching moment, and his decision could pull this team together. Chip will make the right decision. He doesn’t care what the popular opinion is. He cares about what’s right.”
So we have this all correct: Blatant racism can be used to pull a team together, but a single gay man on a roster is just too much to bear, somehow threatening everything.
I wonder what Dungy thinks about having coached defensive tackle Esera Tuaolo on the Vikings from 1992 to 1995. More importantly, I wonder what the openly gay Tuaolo thinks.
We know what Vince Lombardi would think, having ensured the protection and professional treatment of gay players on his teams half a century ago. That was someone who did care genuinely about what was right and would have harsh words for Dungy’s shameful behavior.
Dungy was the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl, owing a debt not only to Fritz Pollard, Art Shell and others but those with the courage and forward thinking to give them chances despite the threat of public backlash or controversy. Dungy’s opportunity came after others pioneered to break hateful barriers, imposed and perpetuated due to fear.
Good for them that people far better than Dungy were making these kind of decisions, and good for him, too. Were he in charge then, he wouldn’t be where he is now, making a fine living delivering his unsettling combinations of chalk-talks and sermonettes, selling a brand of selective piety that covers for deeply ironic intolerance and squishy cowardice.
Tony Dungy is trying to be too many people at the same time, and he has ended up exposed as something less than a person at all.