We’ve moved into the reaction phase of the Tony Dungy news cycle. Former Giants linebacker and current ESPN analyst Antonio Pierce was a guest on Mike and Mike this morning, and generally agreed with Dungy’s sentiment that Michael Sam would be an unwanted distraction. As transcribed by Sporting News:
Interestingly, like Dungy, these Pierce quotes represent an about-face from what he has previously said. “You have to accept it because he is a part of your team,” Pierce told Out Sports in 2012, when asked about whether he would accept a gay teammate. “He’s one of the 53 guys. Obviously he’s put in the sweat and the blood and the pain to get there. I’ll never knock him. As long as we can win a football game, I don’t care. As long as we’re winning football games and winning championships, that’s all that matters.”
The easy counterargument to Dungy and Pierce’s comments this week is Jason Collins. The ostensibly earth-shattering distraction of an openly gay player in an NBA locker room fizzled into, as Josh Levin wrote at Slate, almost a complete non-story. There was never a media circus.
Nevertheless, Pierce and Dungy both represent what is hopefully fast becoming an archaic era of ignorance in NFL locker rooms. Saints coaches and players were disciplined for a bounty system in which they were incentivized to injure opponents. Richie Incognito hit the national cable news circuit for bullying Jonathan Martin. Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer is suspended for 2-3 games for his “nuke the gays” comment, and his whistleblower, Chris Kluwe, has come under fire for tasteless Jerry Sandusky jokes.
All of these incidents have come into the public eye over the last three years in a manner where I think they would have previously stayed under wraps under the “What happens in the locker room stays in the locker room” ethos. Ideally, the repercussions — and, in the case of openly gay athletes, lack thereof — will drive a more enlightened NFL.
Update: Tony Dungy has released a statement through PFT; it reads, in part:
It sounds a little bit like a self-fulfilling prophecy — see the unwanted distraction I created? — and the clarification doesn’t necessarily place the comments in a different light. It reinforces the notion that if every coach felt the same way about how openly gay players would distract the teams, none of them would get the chance to play. Again, if this sentiment had prevailed about the distractions of African Americans, Dungy would not have later received the opportunity to be a player, coach, or broadcaster.
Related: Minnesota Vikings Suspend Mike Priefer 3 Games for Making Homophobic Remark to Chris Kluwe
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Related: Tony Dungy Has Lame Excuse for Why He Wouldn’t Have Drafted Michael Sam