Tony Dungy has long been the conscience of the National Football League.
He is thoughtful and kind and smart. He is a pioneer, the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl.
His words have meaning. His opinions carry weight. We seek his advice.
We listen to him. We like him.
Most of all, we trust him.
Which is why it was so disappointing to hear his comments — and his rather convoluted and contradictory explanation of those comments — about the first openly gay player in NFL history.
In an interview with the Tampa Tribune, Dungy was asked about Michael Sam, the gay player drafted in May by the St. Louis Rams.
"I wouldn't have taken him," Dungy said. "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.''
"It'' means the distractions that come along with the first openly gay active player in pro football history.
Dungy, 58, is right about one thing: The Rams will have distractions as long as Sam is there.
There will be extra media. Things won't be totally smooth. Some things might happen. There could be an altercation involving a fan or another team. There could be a problem within the Rams' own locker room.
These are the types of things that happen when you break barriers. There's a reason why no player had ever come out before now. This stuff is hard.
And that's exactly why we need responsible leaders and courageous people to do some heavy lifting here and Dungy just announced to the world that you can count him out.
Let someone else lead the way. Let someone else deal with it. Good luck, kid, the former Bucs coach is saying, but you're on your own.
How disappointing. And how hypocritical.
Isn't Dungy the same man who campaigned for Michael Vick after the quarterback served a prison sentence for killing dogs?
You can't tell me Vick wasn't a distraction.
Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel are distractions, yet Dungy is a fan of both. But when it comes to Sam, Dungy says the distractions would be too great.
Some might argue that Dungy simply had the courage to say what other teams are thinking.
But wasn't that the thinking of baseball teams pre-1947? If Branch Rickey of the Dodgers thought the way Dungy did, he wouldn't have signed Jackie Robinson to become the first African-American in Major League Baseball. Think bringing in Robinson was easy? Think there weren't a few distractions there?
Or what about all the NFL teams who thought having a black head coach would have been too much of a distraction?
If that happened, I wouldn't be writing this column because no one would have ever heard of Tony Dungy.
Some are applauding Dungy for being honest, but it doesn't mean those opinions and beliefs cannot be questioned.
Look, Dungy is a good man. His view on Sam, 24, doesn't erase all the good deeds he has done and all the people he has touched in a positive way. Dungy has done more for his fellow man than I have, and probably most of you, too.
That's why we are struggling with this. That's why many want to forgive Dungy unconditionally or give him the benefit of the doubt.
But ask yourself this: What if some other former coach had said this? What if Mike Ditka had said he didn't want Michael Sam? What if Bill Parcells or Jimmy Johnson had said it? Would we give them the benefit of the doubt or would we would view them as dinosaurs, out of touch with the ways of the world?
Judge the words, not who said them.
Well, those words came out of Dungy's mouth, and he tried to clarify them Tuesday. Badly, I might add.
He didn't back off his original statement that he would not draft Sam.
The reason? Well, Dungy said he did not believe Sam'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.''
Either way, Dungy is on record — twice now — as saying he would not draft Sam because of the distraction, regardless of where it comes from.
He went on say that it's his job to minimize distractions, yet Dungy welcomed in Keyshawn Johnson and embraced Warren Sapp while with the Bucs. Those guys weren't distractions?
Some are suggesting that Dungy means that Sam isn't good enough to put up with the distractions, that the risk isn't worth the reward. But let's be clear: That is not what Dungy said.
Some are suggesting that Dungy's Christian faith means he has an issue with Sam's homosexuality, but Dungy did not say that either.
Dungy said he didn't want Sam because of the distractions that come with him.
For Dungy, the work would have been too hard, the distractions too great.
It just seems a shame that on Sam's courageous journey, Dungy would not have offered a helping hand.
It's disappointing to even think this, but for the first time ever, I'm glad Tony Dungy is not an NFL coach.