Antonio Pierce Echoes Tony Dungy's Michael Sam Sentiments [UPDATE]

Antonio Pierce Echoes Tony Dungy's Michael Sam Sentiments [UPDATE]


Antonio Pierce Echoes Tony Dungy's Michael Sam Sentiments [UPDATE]

antonio pierce

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:

“I thought Tony Dungy did a great job because he was honest … I think most people in this situation have been giving a politically correct answer and a lot of guys feel totally different than what they’re saying on camera, in front of reporters. So Tony Dungy was honest, and I agree. I would have to say if Michael Sam was a teammate and I was still playing and we were here in New York City and I was playing for the Giants, it would be a distraction and I would not want to have to deal with that every day with the amount of media coverage that it’s getting.

“It’s not about that player or about what that player stands for. It’s about the team. And I think it’s no different than when a guy comes in, he has a different race, different religion or three or four wives or eight baby mamas. It really doesn’t matter. That’s his business. As long as we play on the football field together and do something about the team and not have to talk about that individual and what he believes in every day I can live with that, but for this fact, you have to talk about it every single day after every practice, and I think it is a distraction.”

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:

I was asked whether I would have drafted Michael Sam and I answered that I would not have drafted him.  I gave my honest answer, which is that I felt drafting him would bring much distraction to the team. At the time of my interview, the Oprah Winfrey reality show that was going to chronicle Michael’s first season had been announced. […]

What I was asked about was my philosophy of drafting, a philosophy that was developed over the years, which was to minimize distractions for my teams.

I do not believe Michael’s sexual orientation will be a distraction to his teammates or his organization.

I do, however, believe that the media attention that comes with it will be a distraction.  Unfortunately we are all seeing this play out now, and I feel badly that my remarks played a role in the distraction.

I wish Michael Sam nothing but the best in his quest to become a star in the NFL and I am confident he will get the opportunity to show what he can do on the field.

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
Related: 10 NFL Management Quotes That Look Absurd After Roger Goodell’s $44 Million 2012 Pay
Related: Tony Dungy Has Lame Excuse for Why He Wouldn’t Have Drafted Michael Sam

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