TAMPA — After a day of nationwide reaction to comments that he would not have drafted Rams rookie Michael Sam because of anticipated distractions, former Bucs coach Tony Dungy issued a statement on Tuesday in an attempt to clarify his remarks.
In a story Sunday in the Tampa Tribune, Dungy said as to whether he would've drafted Sam, who is openly gay: "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."
Dungy's statement Tuesday did little to change the context of his quote, other than to call into question when the statement was made. According to his recollection, he made the comment in May.
Here is the statement in full, as published at profootballtalk.com.
"On Monday afternoon while on vacation with my family, I was quite surprised to read excerpts from an interview I gave several weeks ago related to this year's NFL draft, and I feel compelled to clarify those remarks.
I was asked whether I would have drafted Michael Sam, and I answered that I would not have drafted him. I gave my honest answer, which is that I felt drafting him would bring much distraction to the team. At the time of my interview, the Oprah Winfrey reality show that was going to chronicle Michael's first season had been announced.
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.
The best players make the team, and everyone should get the opportunity to prove whether they're good enough to play. That's my opinion as a coach. But those were not the questions I was asked.
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.
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. Unfortunately we are all seeing this play out now, and I feel badly that my remarks played a role in the distraction.
I wish Michael Sam nothing but the best in his quest to become a star in the NFL, and I am confident he will get the opportunity to show what he can do on the field.
My sincere hope is that we will be able to focus on his play and not on his sexual orientation."
Sam's proposed show with Winfrey's network was canceled on May 16.
Former Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks, who played for Dungy and is soon to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was asked about Dungy's comments Tuesday morning and said he hadn't spoken with the coach.
"I just generally feel that he's probably saying what 31 other teams were probably thinking in that regard," Brooks said. "They didn't draft him, for whatever reason. He was just saying, if he were a head coach, this is how he would have approached the situation, or approached the player's situation."
Bucs coach Lovie Smith, a former Tampa Bay assistant under Dungy, addressed his friend's comments on ESPN's Mike and Mike radio show: "Tony's a man of conviction. He says what's on his mind. I'm not going to try to critique what Tony said. I'm sure Tony would evaluate all players, and taking everything into consideration, if they can help his team win, he would take them on their team. That's how we look at it. We evaluate all the players. There are pluses and minuses for every football player."
Dungy, 58, who led the Bucs from 1996-2001, did not appear to shy away from distractions during his career. He has said repeatedly that as the defensive coordinator with the Vikings he lobbied to draft Warren Sapp in 1995 despite reports 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 and, one pick later, Tampa Bay selected Sapp. A year later, Dungy was hired as Bucs coach.
Dungy also traded for mercurial Jets receiver Keyshawn Johnson in 2000. Johnson, the No. 1 overall pick in 1996, gained acclaim for writing a book — titled Just Give Me the Damn Ball — after his rookie season. Dungy also traded for defensive end Simeon Rice, who made his share of headlines with the Cardinals and the Bucs with his lively takes on subjects on and off the field.
Most notably, Dungy went to bat for quarterback Michael Vick after his release from prison following his dog fighting conviction, knowing media attention would certainly follow him to Philadelphia.
Sam, whom the Rams selected in the seventh-round out of Missouri, told ESPN on Tuesday night: "Thank God he wasn't the St. Louis Rams coach. (laughs) I have a lot of respect for Coach Dungy."
Times staff writers Rick Stroud and Matt Baker contributed to this report. Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and at (813) 226-3346. Follow @gregauman.