Tony Dungy on NFL and protests during anthem: Listen to why it matters to players

Former coach says it's important for public to understand why players care enough about issues to protest.
Tony Dungy watches drills at Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp on August 14, 2018 at One Buc Place in Tampa, Fla. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)
Tony Dungy watches drills at Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp on August 14, 2018 at One Buc Place in Tampa, Fla. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)
Published Aug. 14, 2018|Updated Aug. 14, 2018

Tony Dungy says the issue of NFL players protesting during the national anthem has been a divisive topic, but he hopes both sides can come together by listening to why players care enough to choose to protest.

"We really have to understand what these athletes are trying to do," Dungy said Tuesday, as he met with media in advance of him joining the Bucs' Ring of Honor next month. "That's what gets lost in the dialogue. They're not trying to defame the flag. They're not trying to defame the military or first responders. We can build a whole narrative about that, but that's not what they're trying to do.

"These guys see some things going on in their communities, and they're trying to make the situation better. We can debate whether they should do that or when they should do it, but these guys are very, very patriotic. They're doing it because they care."

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Dungy said his disappointment with the NFL is that the league hasn't done more to give players a forum to talk about what bothers them. He said if he were coaching, he would gladly yield some of his team in front of the cameras to allow players to talk about the societal problems that bother them.

"If I were still coaching, my first meeting of the year, I would have them come to me and say 'What are your concerns? What's really on your mind? What do you want to say? What are your solutions?'" he said. "Then I'm going to give you 10 minutes of my press conference to get that out, so you won't have to use three minutes before the game when nobody can hear you. I'm going to give you the platform that you want to be a voice for those who don't have a voice."

Dungy said President Donald Trump has disagreed publicly with players about the protest, and said he wishes the president, as a leader, would take time to listen to why people are upset enough to want to protest.

"If I was the president, one of the first things I would say is 'Gosh, we've got some young men who are very, very powerful figures in this country, and they're upset about something," he said. "I need to find out what they're upset about. Let me call them and see if we can come and have a discussion, rather than just say 'They're doing the wrong thing, they shouldn't do this.' I think if you're a leader, you try to figure out solutions."