Context is everything.
If we needed a reminder, Tony Dungy provided it.
The former Colts coach-turned-TV analyst created a media dust-up this week with his remarks to a Tampa newspaper regarding Michael Sam, the first openly gay player to be drafted in the NFL.
“I wouldn’t have taken him,” Dungy told the Tampa Tribune about Sam, who reports to training camp with the Rams this week. “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.”
Taken in isolation, Dungy’s remarks seems shallow, if
And taking comments in isolation and out of context is what much of today’s “rant first, think later” Internet sports journalism is all about.
It didn’t take long for Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel to jump all over Dungy’s pulled quote with the kind of indignation reserved for those unburdened by details.
“This thinking is devoid of courage — in every possible way,” Wetzel wrote. “And that’s what makes this so pathetic. ... He should be a lot better than this.”
Wetzel threw the keyboard at Dungy.
“The good news for Tony Dungy is that once upon a time enough people in power, be it in football … education … government … wherever, decided that they should empower African-Americans with the opportunities they deserved,” he wrote of those who pioneered the path for people of color like Dungy to play pro sports. “They did this no matter whether things would go ‘totally smooth’ or cause ‘things to happen’ with the bigots who wanted to cling to the old days.”
Wetzel then went to on to speculate further about why Dungy might oppose gays in the NFL, suggesting that his conservative Christian faith was responsible.
“Dungy is an outspoken conservative Christian, and if he were to say that he wouldn’t have drafted Michael Sam because the Bible that Dungy believes in condemns Sam’s lifestyle that would be … well, that would be ridiculous, hypocritical and wrong also, but at least it would seemingly jibe with Dungy’s sometimes expressed beliefs,” he wrote.
Wetzel was just warming up, progressing from judge to jury.
“This is a complete cop-out,” he continued. “This is Dungy bending to the beliefs that he knows are wrong simply because those who hold them may — may — find doing the right thing difficult. This is Dungy not standing up for his own convictions.”
Wow. Strong words from a guy passing judgment based upon one secondhand quote.
Too strong. And too wrong, as it turns out.
To use his own words, Wetzel should be better than this.
Trust but verify is something every aspiring journalist learns. Or at least, they used to.
If Wetzel had looked to the context of Dungy’s remark, he would have learned that it was far from a pronouncement on Sam’s fitness to be in the NFL.
“I do not believe Michael’s sexual orientation will be a distraction to his teammates or his organization,” Dungy said in a statement released Tuesday, explaining that his remark to the Tribune came after an announcement that the Oprah network would be following Sam through the season to produce a reality TV show. “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.”
Dungy is entitled to his opinion, no doubt familiar with the TV circus that plays out in the marriage of pro sports with reality television.
That’s not a knock on Sam or a view that he should not be supported in breaking a perceived barrier. Dungy did not say that. And the context of what he said makes his view completely understandable.
His explanation — e.g., what he would have told a responsible sport reporter — deserves equal time here:
“I was not asked whether or not Michael Sam deserves an opportunity to play in the NFL. He absolutely does.”
“I was not asked whether his sexual orientation should play a part in the evaluation process. It should not.”
“I was not asked whether I would have a problem having Michael Sam on my team. I would not.”
“I have been asked all of those questions several times in the last three months and have always answered them the same way, by saying that playing in the NFL is, and should be, about merit.”
This is not about Sam being gay. Let’s face it, though. If he were not, a horde of TV cameras would not be following a seventh-round draft pick.
It is about Dungy’s philosophy in building a team. As we know in Indy, that is a process that values a team-first approach. I suspect any encroachment by a reality TV show would get the same response.
Of course, that was the not the story. That is because Wetzel did not take the time to get the context before rushing to judgment.
Ironically, in doing so, he became the bigot and hypocrite in this whole mess, not Dungy. Taking shots at Dungy’s race and his faith without even confirming his statements was below the all-too-dismal standards of what passes for journalism on the Internet these days.
Trust, but verify. It still works. Or at least it should.
Bob Johnson is a correspondent for the Daily Journal. His columns appear Tuesdays and Fridays in the Daily Journal. Send comments to email@example.com.