Former NFL coach Tony Dungy started a firestorm this week by saying:
“I wouldn’t have taken [first openly gay player Michael Sam]… 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.”
The press and blog reaction to this was largely negative. But, as someone who really wanted his favorite team to draft Sam, I am going to defend Dungy.
Look at his record. In 13 years of head coaching, Dungy’s teams only missed the playoffs twice, and he made the post-season the last nine years of his career. His teams were very successful. And when you’re coaching a successful team, you want to be careful not to upset the balance of the team. I can understand why Dungy would instinctively not want to take an attention-grabbing seventh rounder; the media attention Sam would attract could mess up a team. It’s not Sam’s fault, it’s the press’s fault; but all the same it’s the sort of thing a conservative (in the football, not political sense) coach like Dungy would avoid.
I wasn’t surprised that good teams like New England, Denver, Green Bay and so on passed on Sam–when you’re coaching a good team, the last thing you want is distractions.
But for lousy teams like Buffalo, it’s very different. In the first place, they should be willing to take more gambles to find hidden talent. (I’m convinced that Sam fell a couple rounds because of the “distraction” thing.) In the second place, while it will be a distraction, the press attention will be mainly positive. And at this point, teams like them could use anything positive; even if it’s not related to on field stuff. Wouldn’t it be nice to read “they may stink at football, but at least they’re progressive and forward-thinking” stories?
Back to Dungy: he didn’t coach lousy teams much. He was a very good coach, so when he went to lousy teams, he quickly got them into shape. So of course he wouldn’t draft Michael Sam–his teams were the kind that couldn’t afford to do that.
“That’s not fair to Sam!” you cry. I agree. It’s too bad that Sam was probably going to be passed over by the good teams for that kind of reason. But then, the draft itself isn’t fair; it’s deliberately designed to give the worst teams better players, in the interest of “parity”. Sam will get a chance to prove himself; and maybe in a few years Dungy will say “I wouldn’t have drafted him, but I sure would trade for him now!”
Coaches have to be pragmatic when it comes to winning and Dungy is right in his assessment, but the Dodgers weren’t a bad team that broke the color barrier with Jackie Robinson they had a courageous owner who fought with his coach over the issue.
That is a very good point–the Dodgers were good. From what little I know of baseball, Robinson was a better baseball player than Sam projects to be a football player. (obviously, we don’t know for sure–Sam might turn out to be the greatest linebacker ever, but that’s not what anyone expects)
So, while it’s not at all fair, it’s understandable that the better a player appears to be, the more willing a team will be to accept the “distractions”. If a player who was a sure-fire first rounder had been gay, I bet Dungy would have been willing to live with the distractions.