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Why Tony Dungy Is Right About the Michael Sam Distraction

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TONY DUNGY
AP

Former NFL coach Tony Dungy has been taking heat this week for commenting that he would not have drafted Michael Sam, the NFL's first openly gay football player.

Since his initial comments, Dungy has released a clarification statement, which wasn't much better than his first comment, explaining his reasoning -- namely, that drafting Michael Sam would create a distraction because of the overwhelming media attention it would bring.

Dungy is right. (Well, sort of.)

The first openly gay football player being drafted into the NFL has garnered, and will undoubtedly continue to capture, quite a bit of media attention -- that's where Dungy starts being right. That's also coincidentally where he stops being right.

Sam's courageous and unprecedented step into the NFL spotlight will draw attention from the media -- and it is exactly the kind of attention the NFL needs.

It's attention that will give people struggling with being accepted for who they are a role model in the NFL.

It's attention that will give people who have thought their big dreams were out of reach because of their sexual orientation a role model in the NFL.

It's attention that will give people who have been watching football every weekend of every season just waiting for the day they could watch someone like themselves on the field a role model in the NFL.

It's attention that will give people who have been streaming "It Gets Better" YouTube videos day-in and day-out asking when things are supposed to get better a role model in the NFL.

It's attention that will give people who have been terrified to come out to their families and friends a role model in the NFL.

It's attention that will give NFL players who are currently closeted and scared a role model within their own organization.

But perhaps Dungy would prefer people to form role models from the other NFL players who receive a lot of media attention -- like Aaron Hernandez, former New England Patriots tight end charged with murder in 2013. Or Ben Roethlisberger, who was accused of sexual assault back in 2010. Or, if these individuals also constitute distracting players, then perhaps one of the other 31 NFL players arrested between the 2012 Super Bowl and last summer could provide the NFL with an appropriate type of media attention approved by Dungy.

After all, we wouldn't want people to be distracted from these inspirational stories to pay attention to a gay football player -- that would just be wrong. So, it seems understandable now that Dungy would not want the distraction of drafting Michael Sam because he just "wouldn't want to deal with all of it." Certainly dealing with the media attention surrounding a gay football player who could serve as a role model for thousands of NFL fans across the world would be much more difficult to handle than, say, Michael Vick's dog fighting scandal, which Dungy seemed fine dealing with in 2009.

But, still, Dungy is right. Media attention definitely follows when someone makes NFL history. Michael Sam made history being the first openly gay player in the NFL, an act that could make him a role model for many who struggle with being accepted themselves. Dungy made history being the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl, a feat that likely also made him a role model for people with similar types of struggles. Unfortunately, it appears Dungy is too distracted to see these similarities and appreciate that Michael Sam is following in his history-making footsteps.

 
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