August 5, 2014

By Channing McNeal

What qualifies as a distraction? People? A pretty girl? The song an ice cream truck plays when it is rolling through your neighborhood? In football, I think most people would say a distraction is anything that takes focus away from the game itself. Not surprisingly, football coach hate distractions. Football coaches are traditional micromanagers and love to have control over every single aspect of their teams operations they can. This means avoiding as many distractions as possible. One of the most talked about “distractions” (I wouldn’t call him that but some people do, so I digress) of this upcoming football is Michael Sam.

Michael Sam is the first openly gay football player to be drafted into the NFL. He was drafted in the 7th round, there are only 7 rounds in the NFL draft, by the St. Louis Rams. Being a 7th round pick, he has basically a 50/50 chance of making the team. Understandably, he was a big news when he was first drafted. One of the main storylines was what kind of attention his presence would bring to the Ram’s football environment. Most speculated that there would at least some form of added media presence when the Rams started organized team activities. There was even a brief period where it was rumored he would be doing a tv documentary on the Oprah Winfrey Network, this idea was swiftly axed.

It is widely thought that the perceived “distraction” that Michael Sam would be was part of the reason he fell in the draft. He was an All-American his senior year and the Co-Defensive Player of the Year in his conference. You would think that someone would draft him before the last round of the draft. NFL people from all around the league, current and former coaches; current and former general managers; etc., have been asked for their take on Michael Sam and what they did or would have done if they were involved with this past draft. One of the more recent people asked was Tony Dungy.

Tony Dungy is the former head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts. Coach Dungy won a Super Bowl with the Colts, and in doing so became the first black head coach to win a Super Bowl. Tony Dungy is also openly a devout Christian and has come out publicly against gay marriage.When asked if he would drafted Michael Sam, Tony Dungy said, “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”. If you want to read more about Dungy’s comments and explaination of them here: http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/11248074/nfl-tony-dungy-comments-michael-sam-better-left-unsaid .

Let me preface my comments by saying that Tony Dungy is entitled to his opinion and he has every right to say what he said. He was asked and a question and he gave an answer. But Dungy’s answer, doesn’t make sense when you look at it in context. Tony Dungy was a staunch Michael Vick Supporter when he came out of prison. So much so, that he became the league appointed mentor for Michael Vick as he attempted to transition back into the NFL. If you want to read exactly what Michael Vick was accused of and everything surrounding it, check out this article: http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=3148549 . In short, Michael Vick was convicted and sentenced to jail for dog fighting. The details of his crime are not really important right now. What is important, is the d word; distraction. As was to be expected when Michael Vick signed with the Philadelphia Eagles upon his release from prison, the media scrutiny around him was immense. Reporters flooded to Philadelphia to see how his teammates and the city would receive him and also to see how he was readjusting to football. Add on top of this, all of the animal rights activist that came to protest Michael Vick’s involvement, and I think anyone would say that there was quite a distraction around the Eagle’s football operations.

So for Dungy to come out and say that he would not draft Michael Sam because of the distractions he would bring seems very hypocritical. You can debate which player would bring more distractions, Sam or Vick, but I do not think you can debate that both players comes with a fair amount of attention. To me, it seems like Dungy was hiding behind distractions. What I think he really wanted to say was that he does not think Michael Sam is that good and that he does not agree with his lifestyle. While I do not agree with both of Dungy’s claims, he is free to have his own opinion. I just wished he would’ve giving an answer that I would have believed instead of just a typical coach nonanswer.