Tony Dungy in 2007 | Photo by bradjward via Flickr (

Tony Dungy in 2007 | Photo by bradjward via Flickr ( Photo by bradjward via Flickr

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Update: Dungy has issued a statement about his remarks. Read more here

Tony Dungy has made a lot of waves in his career as an NFL coach. He was the first African-American coach to win the Super Bowl, with his Indianapolis Colts. He became something of a mentor to Michael Vick after Vick’s NFL suspension, and had a #1 bestselling book in Quiet Strength. He’s an outspoken Christian–Quiet Strength had a follow-up men’s Bible study, and was the top defensive coach in the country when he was with the Minnesota Vikings.

A few years ago, Dungy appeared on Fox News’s Hannity and talked about his support of an amendment to Indiana’s state constitution that would define marriage as between one man and one woman. The proposal passed the State Senate but not its house, and the state of gay marriage in Indiana is currently under review thanks to the case of Baskin v. Bogan. 

Even though he supports traditional marriage, Dungy’s recent comments about Michael Sam, the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL, may still come as a surprise. In an interview with the Tampa Tribune, 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.’’

Things will happen is, perhaps, the most insidious part of the statement. Notice the passive voice: “Things will happen.” In other words, Dungy’s hypothetical refusal to draft Sam is motivated entirely by what other people might say. He wouldn’t want to deal with having an openly gay player on his team, and one can only assume that whatever gay men might have played for Dungy in the past would remain closeted in the face of these statements.

As a Christian, this could have been a great time for Dungy to say something different. Something about how the NFL isn’t a church, and whatever you believe about hiring at religious institutions, the football field is the kind of proving ground where your sexual orientation is not one of the things that can get you hired or fired. Dungy could have praised Sam for his courage in being an out player in a hyper-masculine sport, or, if he didn’t believe that, could have, at the very least, chosen to say nothing. If Dungy really believes that Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but is unwilling to take that chance, what does it say about him?

As far as I know, when you draft a player you don’t need to take a moral inventory of what you agree with and don’t in their lives. It’s not a contract that requires you to agree on much beyond what plays to run, and Dungy’s preoccupation with what people would think–how “smoothly” Sam’s transition into NFL life will be–betrays his unfortunate priorities.

Categories: Beliefs

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Laura Turner

Laura Turner

Laura Turner is a writer and editor living in San Francisco. In addition to being a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s “Her.meneutics” blog, she has also written for publications such as Books & Culture and The Bold Italic. She is interested in the intersection of church and culture.


  1. Panther Anderson

    I think this was a good article, but I think the author is taking to grand of a view about Dungy’s comments. I don’t think Dungy is looking at how the media or even society will view Sam’s attempt to make the NFL. Dungy is referring to locker room politics and how Sam will create unwanted distractions for his ‘hypothetical’ team.

  2. Carolyn Wildermuth

    Have you directly asked him what things he’s talking about before you judged his thoughts and tore him down publicly? If not, that doesn’t seem Christain.

  3. You’re comment that Dungy’s statement “is not Christian” is less Christian than that! Maybe you’re not a Christian so it doesn’t matter to you, I don’t know. If you are a Christian, how can you judge his statement, and even more, his intent?
    You said, “Dungy’s hypothetical refusal to draft Sam is motivated entirely by what other people might say”. Where did he say that? He didn’t. “Things will happen” may well refer to having a locker room full of mostly 20 year olds, with a lot of testosterone and this might be problematic for the safety or emotional well-being of Michael Sam. Or it could refer to things you and I have never thought of, having never been pro-football players.
    Dungy didn’t say he couldn’t come to his church, or he wouldn’t hire him for other jobs, or he wouldn’t rent a house to him. He said, in this particular setting – Pro-football – that He, Dungy, would not have not have drafted him.
    He doesn’t owe Mr Sam a draft pick. He owes his employers to do his best as a coach, and if he thinks the downsides -whatever they are – outweigh the upside then he should not draft him. (This happened to Tebow in fact.)
    I’m glad Mr. Sam got drafted. I hope we find out how good he is. If he’s great, I hope he excels as a pro-football player because this is the USA and he should get what he earns. But enough with, “I don’t like what Dungy said so what he said isn’t Christian.” Do you really think you’re that holy?

  4. Robert Carver

    The hypocrisy by Dungy here is that he experienced the bigotry of others against him when he was a player and as a coach. He was signed, not drafted, by the Steelers as a DB despite playing as a QB in college in 1976. He went into coaching in 1980 after his playing days were over and despite being a high quality defensive coordinator for the Steelers and Vikings, Dungy didn’t get his opportunity to be a head coach until 1996. He was repeatedly passed over due to the color of his skin rather than his ability as a coach. So Dungy is rightly criticized for advocating discrimination against a minority seeking his opportunity in the NFL given his personal experience. Unfortunately, Christianity has been used as a reason by many throughout history to discriminate and oppress the “other.” When you read the history of the debate in our country over slavery, the pro-slavery side used the Bible and their faith to justify the ownership of Africans brought to America as property. When you look at the oppression and subjugation of women, we find that this behavior is justified by quoting the Bible and their Christian belief. We have seen Tony Dungy use his specific version of Christian belief to justify his support of oppressing and discriminating against the GLBT community. He has the right to this belief and he has the right to state his opinion on this subject but we have the right to criticize Dungy for using his faith to promote such discrimination against our fellow human beings who happen to be gay. The positive I take from this situation is that it seems to have prompted a open discussion about the issue of GLBT rights under our Constitution and rule of law.

  5. As a person who was born into an entertainment family and one who resided in San Francisco in the 80’s (Haight), my life experience (since 1970) has been extremely positive with gay couples. What soured me the past decade has been the ever growing extreme actions of the very small faction of intolerant, militant, gay and lesbian individuals. This small segment of the gay population will ultimately “push the envelope” and alienate the tolerant VAST majority. It would be advisable for the LGBT militants cease putting forth the “straw dog” intolerance references to the vast majority of the 97.5% heterosexual population as being homophobic, etc.

    These days, everyone can have a blog. Unfortunately, most have nothing substantive to add to the discussion.

    • Amen, brother!

      I am very tolerant of the gays and lebsians, but when they start getting militant, they lose me. They are now pushing for some law called EDNA that says businesses ahve to hire them just because theyre gay! They’re really losing me and the VAST tolerant majority, as you say. Right on, my friend!

    • Shorter J Bond, “Those _____ are just getting too uppity for their own good”. 50 years ago we would just fill in the blank with something else. :)

      And yet the big issue for gays right now is the somewhat reactionary ideas of being treated like everyone else, working towards plain run of the mill careers, settling down, getting married and raising families.

      Go figure.

  6. If he doesnt want to draft some dainty ballerina to play football, that is HIS DECISION and is CONSTITUTIONALLY PROTECTED, and Barry Obama better not try to sign any “executive order” saying otherwise or there will be an UPRISING!

  7. If only the author, and others, cared enough and were smart enough to understand what Dungy was saying before putting on the hoods and getting out their torches and pitchforks.

  8. Let’s be honest: Michael Sam was only mediocre at best during the try-outs. Not worth it, really. The real reason why he got drafted, was just for the “first openly gay NFL player” publicity. Sheesh.

    First priority for most NFL teams, especially the bottom feeders, happens to be SELLING TICKETS. Hence the (rather pitiful) reason for drafting Sam.

    As for Tony Dungy, he was simply telling the truth as a national championship coach who happens to be a real Christian. Don’t shoot the messenger, folks!

    • Except that he got drafted by St. Louis. I live around here, brother, and we don’t even start to think about the Rams until the Cardinals are basically out of contention. Fisher and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams weren’t trying to make a statement. They saw something that they liked.

      • The question of what exactly that “something” was or is, in terms of football talent, we’ll never know. They’re NEVER going to openly admit to, “Hey we want to make a pro-gay stand, or generate some extra ticket sales, and Sam is it.”

        But that’s St. Louis’s business. That’s Sam’s business.

        What I’d like to see is for the MEDIA to grow up — this includes the religion media — and allow Dungy’s business of not rubber-stamping the mess to be HIS business. It needs to be okay, in a free country (IF it is still free), to say that the gay lifestyle ain’t okay.

  9. You don’t watch a whole lot of pro football, do you, Laura? Know what the job of an NFL head coach is? To get his team ready for the season and to win as many games as he can. That’s it.

    The job description doesn’t involve Making Grand Political Statements with the team’s draft choices or subjecting his team to the inevitable media circus surrounding his Grand Political Statement. THAT’S all Dungy was saying.

    It doesn’t have to come to that. If it does, Head Coach Jeff Fisher of my Rams will just shut out the national media as long as he possibly can. But that doesn’t mean that there’s anything un-Christian about teams like San Francisco, Seattle or New York passing on the guy.

    Mike’s a good kid and I’m pulling for him to make the team (this is coming from a person who holds the traditional Christian view of homosexual activity). Will he make it? Sure he can.

    But IF he does, he’s not going to start. No way he’s beating out Robert Quinn or Chris Long. IF he makes it, he’ll probably appear in spot situations here and there for a few years.

    Once again, that’s IF he makes it. Fisher has already stated that if Mike’s not good enough, he’s not sticking around.

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