Tony Dungy isn’t the leader he sells himself as being


For many, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy epitomizes the moral compass of the NFL, or at least where the moral compass should be.  His post-football work has been focused leadership and character building book writing, player mentorship, and television analysis that could best be described as “the opposite of First Take.”

Dungy is known for his prescient “let’s-slow-down-the-knee-jerk-reaction” takes, and rarely finds his comments or commentary to be the type that draws fire.

Until now.

Tampa Tribune columnist Ira Kaufman, in an article about holding NFL players to a higher standard got Dungy on the record saying the following about recently selected Rams draft pick, and the NFL’s first openly gay player Michael Sam:

‘I wouldn’t have taken him,’’ said former Bucs and Colts coach Tony Dungy, now an analyst for NBC.  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.’

The quote in and of itself lends to the type of backwards line of thinking that kept sports in this country, if not the country itself, segregated well past the point where it could have been. The type of lazy “don’t-rock-the-boat” thinking that told us that separate water fountains, bathrooms, public pools and schools were okay.

The type of thinking that said it was okay to admit new states to the Union, but only if we admitted another state at the same time that legally allowed for people to sell other people as chattel.

The comment could probably be written off, or at least passed off as the ramblings of an old man, that time has simply passed. We see examples every day of the aged and oblivious struggling or failing to adapt to the contemporary paradigms of society. Look no further than Donald Sterling or Daniel Snyder for that.

With Dungy, however, we have a man who authors books on leadership. A man who has the platform and has positioned himself at the forefront of ethics and morality in sports. A man who wrote a book titled “Dare to be Uncommon.”  Ostensibly a treatise and study guide advising readers to take the high ground, even when it isn’t convenient.

You see where this is headed.

Dungy, with his quote on the Michael Sam situation, is essentially telling you to buy his advice, but don’t expect him to practice it. Boiled down, Dungy’s quote essentially reads that the potential distraction might have been too much for him to deal with, so he’d rather pass on the player because it simply isn’t convenient.

To be fair I have no problem with anyone saying they would have passed on Michael Sam because they don’t believe he would succeed in the NFL. If you honestly believe that unanimous All-American, SEC co-defender of the year and Missouri linebacker who snagged 11.5 sacks last year doesn’t deserve an NFL shot I’m certainly willing to listen to your reasoning.

What I’m not willing to listen to is a lazy narrative about distractions. The only people hyping the distraction angle is the media.  Find me one teammate who has said Michael Sam has been a distraction.  I talked to several players at Mizzou and to the man they laughed the premise off as ridiculous. A few Rams players I spoke with said they were slightly worried about the possibility…until they met him.

Not only is the narrative behind Dungy’s comment lazy, so is the premise.  He is selling himself as a mentor, a leader and an authority on those topics, but wouldn’t have selected Sam because it might have been inconvenient for him to deal with some peripheral distraction that everyone is speculating about, but no one has actually seen yet?

Dungy’s comments are also a bit ironic, given his advocacy for Tim Tebow despite the circus surrounding him, or his advocacy for Michael Vick who brought his own distractions and attention.

What kind of authority on leadership begs off and avoids the challenges when they present themselves?


Benjamin Allbright is a published author and sports radio talk show host for 94.1 fm in Denver, Colorado. He has been featured on ESPN, Yahoo!, and Fox Sports.


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