In Tampa Bay, Dungy never ran from distractions
Tony Dungy attemped to clarify his remarks regarding Rams defensive end Michael Sam. In a statement released Tuesday by Pro Football Talk, Dungy said, "I was asked whether I would have drafted Michael Sam and I answered that would not have drafted him. I gave my honest answer, which is that I felt drafting him would bring much distraction to the team.''
The interview took place sometime in May, based on Dungy's recollection that at the time of the interview, the Oprah Winfrey reality show had announced it would chronicle Sam's first pro season.
Sam, who announced he was gay prior to the NFL draft, was selected in the seventh round by the Rams.
"I was not asked whether or not Michael Sam deserves an opportunity to play in the NFL. He absolutely does,'' Dungy said. "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.''
So why wouldn't Dungy draft Sam?
"What I was asked about was my philosophy of drafting, a philosophy that was developed over the years, which was to minimize distractions for my teams,'' Dungy said. "I do not believe Michael’s sexual orientation will be a distraction to his teammates or his organization. I do, however, believe that the media attention that comes with it will be a distraction.''
I covered Dungy Buccaneers teams for all six seasons and he was never one to run from distractions. In fact, he was the perfect coach to diffuse many of them.
This was the same Dungy who has said repeatedly that he lobbied for the Vikings to draft Warren Sapp in '95, despite reports that the Miami All America defensive tackle had a positive test for marijuana at the NFL scouting combine which eventually caused him to fall to the Bucs with the 12th overall pick. The Vikings took Florida State defensive tackle Derrick Alexander one pick earlier. A year later, Dungy was hired as the Bucs' head coach.
This was the same Dungy who traded for mercurial Jets receiver Keyshawn Johnson in 2000. Johnson, the No. 1 overall pick in 1996, gained acclaim for writing a book -- Just Give Me the Damn Ball -- following his rookie season. Johnson certainly brought a lot of distractions, including four news conferences prior to the Bucs' game against his former Jets team in 2000.
Johnson caught one pass in a 21-17 loss to the Jets as Wayne Chrebet -- whom Keyshawn had referred to during the week as 'the Flashlight,' caught the winning TD pass with 52 seconds remaining.
This was the same Dungy that signed defensive end Simeon Rice, who made his share of headlines with the Arizona Cardinals and the Bucs with his lively takes on subjects on and off the field.
It's impossible to forget that Dungy went to bat for quarterback Michael Vick following his release from jail, knowing that media attention would certainly follow him to Philadelphia.
If media attention shaped Dungy's philosophy about limiting distractions, it didn't happen in Tampa Bay. Regardless of what you think about Dungy's stance on Sam, he's selling himself short as a head coach. He would've been the perfect coach to minimize the media attention and distractions surrounding Sam.