The two faces of Tony Dungy

I used to like Tony Dungy.

I liked his Colts. I liked his coaching. I liked his quarterback. I liked the Christian compassion he showed in reaching out to Michael Vick, who had done horrible things but, as Dungy said, deserved a second chance.

I don't like Tony Dungy now.

The former Indianapolis coach and ESPN talking head can sing and dance all he likes, and he's proving quite nimble at it, it seems, but he said what he said. And what he said was that he would not draft Michael Sam because he wouldn't want to deal with the distractions that would come with drafting the NFL's first openly gay player.

Dungy told the Tampa Tribune on Sunday: "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."

Yeah, things will happen. Like a respected coach looking at a player and seeing his sexuality, not his quarterback sack total (which, by the way, was 11 1/2 in his senior season at Missouri. That led the Southeastern Conference - which plays a little football - and was eighth-best in the nation.)

There is indeed a label attached to Sam, who came out publicly before May's NFL Draft. He's a dreaded tweener, the term given to players who fall between the ideal size for two positions - in Sam's case, he's considered by some too small to be a lineman, too big to be a linebacker. And yes, his speed and strength numbers at the NFL Combine weren't incredibly impressive.

So you don't want to draft him because of that? Fine. You don't want to draft him because he's gay, and too many people would ask about that? That's stupid and short-sighted and, in the case of Dungy, hypocritical.

In a pure football sense, dismissing a player out of hand could hurt the team Dungy says he's thinking of when he wants to minimize distractions. Perhaps Sam's role on your team would not be worth any accompanying media circus. But maybe he would fill some long-neglected niche and lift said team to greater heights. If your true interest is the good of your team, you'd want to evaluate all of that, wouldn't you, before ruling on a player's value?

As a friend and colleague, award-winning columnist and author Issac Bailey of the Myrtle Beach Sun News, pointed out, the same 'no distractions' argument could have been made in not giving Jackie Robinson an MLB contract. And what a loss that would have been - for the Dodgers, for baseball, for humanity.  

There was hardly a bigger distraction in 2007 than Vick's infamous role in a dogfighting ring in Newport News, Va. (where I lived and worked as a sportswriter at The Daily Press for seven years). Vick was convicted of lying to federal investigators about his role in the ring and sentenced to 23 months in prison, where Dungy famously visited and counseled him. I admired Dungy for that. As an animal lover, I found Vick's crime particularly heinous, but as a Christian, I found Dungy's message that every man can be redeemed, and should perhaps be re-signed, resonated.

Which is why it boils my blood that Dungy's opinion on Sam is cloaked behind his much-reported religious beliefs - maybe not explicitly by him, but by those discussing the platform he hasn't exactly turned down. Yes, Dungy is entitled to his opinion, but yes, in the case of drafting Sam, that opinion is bigoted - and disappointing from a man described in one article as 'the conscience of the NFL.' It tells you that Dungy thinks the most important thing about Sam is his homosexuality - not his character, not his potential, not his skill or drive. When Dungy looks at Sam, he sees a gay man, first and foremost. Which again is his right, but don't tell me Jesus shares that view. 

See, I grew up Southern Baptist. I know my Bible - in fact, I got a Sunday School pin for memorizing all the books, in order. I know what it says, and what it doesn't. I know Leviticus, and I know a little about the language it was translated from, and that that language had no word at the time for 'homosexual.' I also know it condemns people to hell for getting tattoos and for cutting their hair - I'm screwed on both counts. 

I know where the red letters are, and I pay special attention to them. Those are the words Jesus spoke, or at least the ones written down and translated by fallible men. Jesus does not speak about homosexuality. Or abortion, for that matter, but that is another story. (One thing he does speak about is divorce, FYI, but it's amazing how seldom that comes up). He does speak about loving your neighbor as yourself, and how peacemakers are blessed, and how your actions towards others are reflections of your love for him. 

This is why I admired Dungy for his support of Vick. It's why I detest his reaction to Sam.

For the record, not all Christians - or people who believe in God, or a divine spirit, or in just being a good person because you probably should - think being gay is a sin. (I, for one, try to be careful about going around pointing out sin the first place, but then again, I'm not as perfect as some of my former pew-sharers). Some of us even believe that God made us the way we are, and since we heretics further think that being gay is not a choice, that means God made people gay.

That's not really the point, however - though it needs to be said, and often, and more loudly than the bullies who've usurped all the microphones. The point is that Dungy seems to think he can pick and choose, based on the 'religious beliefs' that have just become code for discrimination, those who are worthy of grace. And that's a role open to no human, regardless of his record.