There’s no special obligation for black leaders who’ve contended with discrimination to be supportive of other pioneers in civil rights issues, but one would think that a little sensitivity would be in order. Not so for Tony Dungy, the first black coach to win a Super Bowl. Dungy declared that he would not have drafted Michael Sam, the National Football League’s first openly gay player, because he would be a media distraction for the team. Thankfully for Dungy, who issued a half-apology but didn’t fully distance himself from his comments, his own former bosses didn’t have the same hesitation.
Dungy’s Super Bowl victory came in 2007, 23 years after the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the more progressive teams in the NFL, made him the youngest defensive coordinator in the league and, at times, the only African American defensive or offensive coordinator in the league, period. When Sports Illustrated celebrated the distinction by calling him the brightest coaching star on the horizon, Dungy told the Associated Press, “It was a distraction. I was surprised, but it was a pleasant surprise.”
Yet he went more than a decade being overlooked for a head-coaching job in a league slow to fully recognize the coaching talents of black men. In 1992, while still waiting for his first chance, Dungy told Newsweek, “I had two strikes against me — I was young and black.” Michael Sam is young, black, and gay. Who would have guessed that it would be Dungy calling the third strike?