“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.”
– Tony Dungy,
former head coach of the Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers
“Thank God he wasn’t the St. Louis Rams coach.”
– Michael Sam
What in the world does “things will happen” mean? What does that mean?
Actually, first we need to explore some quick history. Prior to the Missouri Tigers 2013 football season, Michael Sam shared with his team that he is gay. The team went on to a hugely successful 11-2 season and No. 5 ranking in the country, all the while keeping Sam’s sexual orientation to themselves. Sam was the SEC co-defensive player of the year, a first team All-American who tied Missouri’s school record with 11.5 sacks. Sam was projected by most to be selected in the first five rounds of the NFL draft.
On Feb. 9, prior to the NFL draft, Sam elected to let the world know that he is gay. At the NFL scouting combine, a critical measuring stick for college players entering the NFL draft, Sam showed poorly. His measurable results were far below expectations, and his draft stock slipped. His handling of the media during this time, however, was nearly flawless.
On May 10, the St. Louis Rams selected Sam in the 7th and final round of the NFL draft. Shortly after the draft, a planned documentary on Sam by Oprah Winfrey’s television network was canceled. Two weeks ago, right before the kickoff of NFL training camps, Tony Dungy commented that he would not have drafted Sam and worried that “things will happen.”
This brings us back full circle – what does “things will happen” mean?
Let us dispense with the obvious first. Dungy was the first black head coach to win a Super Bowl. That is a thing that happened and was a huge distraction.
Dungy very famously and very publicly supported and advocated for a return to the NFL for Michael Vick. Vick was convicted and served jail time for operating a brutal dogfighting ring. Dungy offered to mentor Vick and help him return to the good graces of the NFL. That is a thing that happened and was certainly a distraction.
So it does not appear that Dungy is immune to distractions or to things happening. What Dungy is actually saying is that he would be too cowardly to deal with the unknown issues related to being the first to do something.
Sam is the NFL’s first openly gay player, and that scares Dungy, who claims this philosophy of avoiding distraction is a time-tested drafting philosophy. The reality is there is no blueprint for being the first to do something.
Dungy later clarified his remarks to make sure it was understood that he felt that Sam “has a right” to play in the NFL, and that he was only worried about the media distraction. It still isn’t clear, however, what “things” Dungy is so concerned about happening.
Earlier this year, a thing happened. To the dismay of many Rams fans, the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl. The Seahawks feature young phenomenon Russell Wilson at quarterback. Wilson became just the second black quarterback to win a Super Bowl, just the second.
It is difficult to find a single headline that alludes to that even being a story. A black quarterback won a Super Bowl, and the fact that he was black was barely a footnote. It was less important than the fact that he was a third-round draft pick.
Another thing also happened earlier this year. Between the time of Sam’s coming out as gay and the NFL draft, he was invited back to the Mizzou campus to be honored. The vociferously anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church announced they would conduct one of their remarkably hateful protests at the event. In an effort coined “Stand with Sam,” hundreds of Mizzou students lined the campus to provide a human barricade between Sam and any Westboro supporters. Westboro did not show up, and Sam received a standing ovation at the event.
So yes, Mr. Dungy, things will happen. At least you got that part right. Things will very definitely happen.