• Twitter
  • Facebook
News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

He said, they said

Today's exercise in missing the point . . .

Former Colts coach Tony Dungy, as you may have heard, created quite a stir when he said he probably would not have drafted Michael Sam, the NFL's first openly gay player, because it would have been too much of a distraction. I heard an NPR duo talking about at one point over the weekend, and the female guest, a sportswriter for, I believe, Bloomberg's, said those who care about advancing minority rights were very disappointd (you could almost hear the italics over the radio) in Dungy, who as someone who had to overcome discrimination himself should be more sensitive to someone fighting that same battle. Yet here he is, throwing around that discredited old homophobic "players will be bothered in the locker room" nonsense.

Except that's not what he said. He said the media hoopla would be too much of a distraction to put up with. And since Sam was a seventh-round draft choice likely without the skill sets needed to make the team, it would be a lot of disruption with no offsetting benefit for the team. The media's hysterical reaction -- they're going bat-s--- crazy out there, folks -- rather proves his point.

The reporter was letting her personal feelings block her from an objective, honest account of the story to the point where she did Dungy the injustice of distorting what he said. (That's called the straw man fallacy in the logic businesss, btw). That's tempted us all from time to time, to exaggerate or distort someone's argument to make it easier to attack; heaven knows I've been guilty of it. But it's something I think we need to guard against. Otherwise, at some point, we'll end up all distorting each other's words so much we won't even be able to keep track of what the original debate was. Hell, maybe we're already there.

I have head plenty of other people in the last week use that locker-room excuse, but Dungy wasn't one of them. And it is quite possible to disagree with him without twisting what he said. Here, for example, is an editorial in the Boston Globe:

There’s no special obligation for black leaders who’ve contended with discrimination to be supportive of other pioneers in civil rights issues, but one would think that a little sensitivity would be in order. Not so for Tony Dungy, the first black coach to win a Super Bowl. Dungy declared that he would not have drafted Michael Sam, the National Football League’s first openly gay player, because he would be a media distraction for the team. Thankfully for Dungy, who issued a half-apology but didn’t fully distance himself from his comments, his own former bosses didn’t have the same hesitation.

Dungy’s Super Bowl victory came in 2007, 23 years after the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the more progressive teams in the NFL, made him the youngest defensive coordinator in the league and, at times, the only African American defensive or offensive coordinator in the league, period. When Sports Illustrated celebrated the distinction by calling him the brightest coaching star on the horizon, Dungy told the Associated Press, “It was a distraction. I was surprised, but it was a pleasant surprise.”

Dungy survived "being a media distraction," and now he would deny someone else the same opportunity. That's a valid point. The difference is that Dungy was anything but a seventh-round choice. The team was getting something very valuable in return for the disruption of the distraction. Of course, it's also an interesting point of debate to ask just how utilitarian someone's choices should be. Yes, winning the game is the most imoportant thing so choosing just the right players to do that is paramount.  But it shouldn't be the only consideration, should it?