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Tara Sullivan

‘Nice guy’ Tony Dungy’s comments were anything but nice, and other thoughts

There has been no reaction to any of Tony Dungy's statements from the NFL or NBC.Bryan Bennett/Associated Press

A few things I care about …

▪ Tony Dungy’s reputation has always been rooted in his overall niceness, in a leadership profile that ran opposite to much of the NFL’s reputation for bombast and noise. It’s the type of niceness that has seemingly shielded Dungy from the harshest of criticisms, in part because it just feels wrong to be mean to someone so nice.

This past week, however, I can’t help but be angry with Dungy. Angry, sad, disappointed. Disgusted, annoyed, frustrated.

The final straw was Dungy’s tweet on Wednesday that compared a Minnesota legislator’s suggestion to have menstrual products in all school bathrooms to a widely debunked story about litter boxes being placed in classrooms for students who identify as cats. The latter claim has been debunked by countless news organizations, including NBC, which employs Dungy as an NFL analyst. It’s also a barely masked, uninformed, untrue shot at the transgender community, one people such as Dungy want neither to empathize with nor simply understand, but would rather liken to folly and foolishness over a sincere issue of gender identity.

The story unfolded on Wednesday, after the website The Daily Wire tweeted a video from the Minnesota House of Representatives in which a member talked about the possibility of putting period products in men’s restrooms, which would presumably then be available for transgender men. Dungy posted in response: “That’s nothing. Some school districts are putting litter boxes in the school bathrooms for the students who identify as cats. Very important to address every student’s needs.”

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Wrong, and mean, taking aim at one of the most vulnerable populations in our society. A poll released just this past week by The Trevor Project noted that 45 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth experienced cyberbullying or online harassment because of increased debate and rhetoric over anti-LGBTQ policies.

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About seven hours after he posted it, Dungy deleted the tweet, and in a story published Friday by USA Today, his agent gave columnist Nancy Armour this statement from the former coach: “I saw a tweet yesterday and I responded to it in the wrong way. As a Christian, I should speak in love and in ways that are caring and helpful. I failed to do that and I am deeply sorry.”

It’s not the first time Dungy has been forced to clarify his views on the LGBTQ community. Back when Michael Sam entered the NFL Draft, Dungy had to explain why he said he would not have selected Sam, saying it was because of the distraction having an openly gay player would bring to a locker room. The same Dungy has advocated for second chances for Michael Vick and Ray Rice, seeing both as worthy of such second chances in his locker room, with no mention of the presumed media attention/distraction they also would bring after dog fighting/domestic abuse transgressions. Go back even further to 2013 and remember when Dungy said this about NBA player Jason Collins when Collins came out as gay: “I don’t agree with [his] lifestyle.”

Tony Dungy has come under fire for some recent comments.Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

For me, that’s the problematic, homophobic, bigoted rub: seeing homosexuality as a lifestyle, as something of a choice, as a personal decision that can be easily cast as deviant or abnormal. To me, that’s abhorrent, ignoring the piles of evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, that refute such a position. Using the words “lifestyle” or “choice” demeans someone’s very identity, a euphemistic crutch to hide non-acceptance of even the possibility homosexuality is an immutable characteristic.

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It was the same tactic used by Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov, who declined to participate in his team’s pregame skate Tuesday rather than wear the specialized Pride Night jersey made for warm-ups. In explaining his decision, Provorov said, “I respect everyone. I respect everybody’s choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.”

Again, he cast homosexuality as a choice, as a lifestyle, as something to condemn or avoid.

That’s sad.

Dungy continues to have his platform, with no public reaction to any of his statements from the NFL or NBC. He invoked the recovery of Bills safety Damar Hamlin from on-field cardiac arrest during a Friday address at the March for Life rally in Washington. Dungy has been an important figure in the NFL’s work toward diversity in coaching, the first Black coach to win a Super Bowl, which he did with the Colts, and a regular on-screen presence analyzing games. But based on his low-energy, barely perceptible television call of the Jaguars’ scintillating wild-card comeback win over the Chargers, maybe his interests are best laid elsewhere.

▪ Hard to get too excited for LIV Golf about the recent broadcast deal with the CW network. Gone are accessible, if little-watched, streams on YouTube, with its tournaments’ early rounds now only available on the CW app. With no real details about the financial aspect of the deal, there’s little to believe LIV earned any great rights fees the way most sports leagues are accustomed to doing.

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▪ If ever a career was defined by one match, and by one epic third-set point, it was a point won by Scotsman Andy Murray over at the Australian Open. Down, two sets to none, and trailing, 0-2, in the third set, Murray fought back through four (four!) overhead slams by Thanasi Kokkinakis to win the game, eventually pulling out an epic five-set match that was played into the wee hours of the morning. Murray, playing on a surgically repaired hip, is simply a marvel.

▪ Meanwhile, hard not to think fan favorite and all-timer Rafael Nadal is approaching the end of his amazing career. After losing his second-round match to American Mackenzie McDonald, Nadal revealed he will be out for up to eight weeks with a torn hip muscle. With court coverage and creativity to amaze us all over the years, Nadal’s body has no doubt paid a price.

▪ Other favorite moments from Australia include Jessica Pegula wearing Hamlin’s No. 3 while competing. Pegula is the daughter of Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula and is a devoted supporter of the family business. The third seed in the singles draw is also playing doubles with another rising American star, Coco Gauff. Great stuff.


Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at tara.sullivan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.