Post submitted by Charlie Joughin, HRC Press Secretary
In May of this year, Michael Sam made history by becoming the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL. The 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the year and first-team All-SEC selection was picked by the St. Louis Rams to be a part of their squad during the 2014 NFL Draft.
Sam has received overwhelming support from fans, his peers, and others who see his willingness to be open about being gay as a massive step toward breaking down barriers of homophobia in professional sports.
One person who sees things differently, however, is former NFL coach and NBC analyst Tony Dungy. In an interview last week with the Tampa Tribune, the former coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts said he would not have drafted 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,” Dungy said. “It’s not going to be totally smooth … things will happen.’’
Essentially Dungy is saying it would have been too much work as a coach to make sure there weren’t any negative issues surrounding having an openly gay player on his team. To me, this is a shameful precedent to set, and a dangerous message to send to kids across the country. Without actually saying it, Mr. Dungy has just told countless LGBT young people that, if they want to be successful as an athlete or even make it to the pros, they should stay in the closet; that by coming out you become a naissance and coaches won’t want you on their team.
92% of LGBT youth say they hear negative messages about being LGBT. These messages come from their parents, their peers, elected officials, and yes – their teachers and coaches. Less than a third (30%) of LGBT youth say they play sports for their school or community league, while about half (49%) of non-LGBT youth say they do. And its no wonder, considering one of the biggest names in professional sports – Tony Dungy – says that having a gay player on his team would be problematic.
When Jason Collins signed with the Brooklyn Nets earlier this year after coming out as gay, his No. 98 jersey became the top seller on the NBA's online store. The WNBA’s Brittney Griner – also gay – was named Best Female Athlete at the 2012 ESPY Awards and currently ranks #1 in the league in blocks. And last week, Michael Sam was awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, one of the most prestigious honors in sports.
Are these the type of “things” that Mr. Dungy references as reasons to not want Michael Sam on his team?