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Seth Dunlap

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Seth: Tony Dungy was talking about me

"Reasonable people can disagree."

A simple modern proverb.  One that people in this polarized, political climate seem to forget.  So let me say right here at the top that while I disagree, I have no issue with Tony Dungy believing what he wants.  That's a foundation of America.  You can believe what you want, and as long as you aren't proselytizing, should be left in peace with those beliefs. 

This also won't be a character assassination.  Everything that Tony Dungy has done in his coaching life has shown him to be a man of high character that people across the NFL and the media have a high degree of respect for.  A week of bad judgment won't undo a lifetime of good work.   

If everything I said/wrote/tweeted were looked at with a microscope, I'd sure offend as many people as Dungy did.  So, I'm not casting stones without personal reflection.

However, what Dungy said was hypocritical, dishonest, and showed such a complete lack of moral conviction.

In case you somehow missed it, Dungy, an ex NFL player and coach and now a broadcaster with NBC, was asked recently about his views on Michael Sam and if Dungy would have drafted him to play on his team, if he were still coaching.  Dungy said, "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," he added.  "Things will happen."

With that he set off a national media firestorm.  Kind of like the one he supposedly would have tried to avoid by drafting Sam. Ironic.

You can see Dungy's full comments, and recent clarification here.

I have issues, major issues, with what he said on a couple of levels.  I'm going to break it down by directly addressing the talking points of people who are knee-jerk-defending Dungy on this.

First, we have the "he was just being honest and should be commended" crowd.

Let's get real here.  Dungy just isn't being honest about his motivations.  Prefaced with what I wrote above about allowing him to believe what he wants, Dungy has a long history of anti-gay advocacy. He raised money for the Indiana Family Institute, an organization that supports anti-gay marriage causes and is affiliated with Focus on the Family that, among other things, supports gay conversion therapy. Dungy spoke out publically in 2007 in favor of an amendment to the Indiana State Constitution banning gay marriage.  He would later tweet out his disappointment with President Obama's announcement supporting of gay marriage in 2012. 

Furthermore, Dungy is famous for his unbridled support of Michael Vick during his post-dog fighting ring rehabilitation days.  He believed Vick, who was convicted of a felony and served prison time, deserved a second shot in the NFL. Regardless of the media scrutiny that was sure to follow.   

It reeks of dishonesty when Dungy makes statements about Sam like he did.  I'd like to think people are wise enough, in face of the evidence, to realize Dungy has a major moral objection to gays.  He is either being completely disingenuous with his reasoning for not wanting to draft Sam, or completely hypocritical given his previous advocacy campaign for Michael Vick.

So no, Dungy wasn't being honest.  While I would have disagreed if he would have said, "I wouldn't have drafted him, because I object to him being gay," at least he would have been being direct instead of this between-the-lines nonsense he is currently trying to pull.

Other pro-Dungy supporters out there right now say, "Dungy is right. Sam is just too mediocre to have to deal with the media distractions that would follow him and the team."  

By that reasoning you are saying it's not talent level, but media coverage, that should determine the fate of would-be professionals.  Isn't that exactly what most NFL-ers would argue against?  I've heard the "if you can play, it's all that matters" line spouted by who-knows-how many NFL players, coaches, and executives over the past few months.

I could also go off on a long tangent about why I find it amazing that Dungy, a member of a historically disadvantaged minority group, is now advocating against a currently disadvantaged minority group. Instead, it's probably best if I get a bit personal here and tell you my story.  Stay with me here, as I have a point, I promise.
Everybody defending Dungy like this is also saying that I shouldn't get the chance to pursue my career because, hey, I just might be too much of “a distraction.”

I'm lucky to have known what I've wanted to do with my life since a very young age. I used to sit in my bedroom next to my window in Lincoln, Washington and listen to scratchy Seattle Mariners radio broadcasts every summer night growing up.  I'd listen to Dave Neihuas, Rick Rizzs, and the other broadcasters thinking one day that could be me.   

I've been blessed with a great support group of family and friends, plus enough talent, that I've achieved some of that dream.  However, there was a long period when I wasn't sure it could happen.  

I came out when I was 25.  Came out as gay, I mean, although I find the whole concept of “coming out” a bit silly.  Not many gay people want to “come out,” we just want to be able to be who we are.  People are right to say straight people don't have to come out, so why should gay people?  It all seems a bit unnecessary.  At least I hope eventually it will be.

I'd known I was gay, of course, ever since those days sitting in my room listening to baseball games.  I grew up and went to high school and college in rural eastern Washington State, not exactly an easy thing to do for a young gay person.  

I started working for a local radio station during college, KQQQ, which did local news, talk and sports.  They gave me my first shot on-air doing news, plus play by play for a local high school.  I'll forever be grateful for the opportunity they gave me.  However, I found myself entombed by such conservative anti-gay (and some anti-black) vitriol on a nearly daily basis that one day I had enough, went into my boss's office and told him, emphatically, to knock it off and that we shouldn't put these bigots on the air.  A week later I was fired for "showing up late to work.” 

That opened my eyes up a bit to the career-progression realities I'd face, but it paled in comparison to what I went through a few years later while coaching my high school alma maters girls' basketball team.  I got the job at 23 years old, really only because nobody else would take the job.  I was called two weeks before the season asking if I wanted the gig and, not knowing what awaited me, eagerly said yes.  I coached that team for two years, and I grew up and matured more during that time than during any other time of my life.  I was too young, but never regret taking that job for a second.

I was a bad coach, especially during the first season.  I was too young, too inexperienced, and too hotheaded for small town girls basketball.  Well, any basketball really.  I matured during the second year and had an extremely young squad ready to come back for season three where we'd have been (and they went on to be) extremely competitive.  This was small town high school basketball, you didn't get fired unless you did something illegal.  Or so I thought.

It was during that second season that I had “come out,” or more specifically been found out.  I had been living with my boyfriend literally across the street from a rival high school's athletic director, and about 4 blocks down from my athletic director.  I was just done with hiding who I was and didn't care who found out.  And people did find out.  Lots of people including my parents, friends, and those AD’s. 

When my athletic directors (there were two of them) called me in to a classroom during our post-season evaluation they told me I would not be back next season.  They gave some vague reasons as to why… some valid (like being too hot tempered)…some not.  But, I'll never forget the sequence that happened next.

I knew word had gotten around to them and the school board that I was gay.  So I asked them, "Was there any other reason I'm getting fired?"

They looked at each other, sighed and paused, then looked at me, eyes wide with guilt, and said, "What other reason would that be, Seth?"

You know that feeling you have during a moment of complete and brutal clarity?  That was it.  I was getting fired for being gay.  They didn’t even try to hide it from the look on their faces and in their eyes.  They just couldn't legally say it.  

Like Michael Sam, I had become too much of “a distraction.”

There was a period after where I was a bit lost, unsure if I'd continue chasing my dream.  I bounced around small jobs for the next couple of years, not wanting to take a chance at a bigger job or bigger market.  It wasn't a fear of failure, more like a fear of wasting my time.  My world view had shifted to think that every career opportunity would end at a glass ceiling that I couldn't break. 

My family and friends helped me realize somebody had to be the “first,” even if it's on a small scale.   Just because there wasn't a path blazed before me, didn't mean I couldn't get where I wanted to go.

Fast forward a few years later and I'm not having to hide who I am to pursue my career.  My employer doesn't care about race, gender, religion, or sexuality.  They only care if you are good enough to do the job.  I'm fortunate and grateful to be in the right place at the right time.
However, the Tony Dungy's of the world, and their defenders, wouldn't give people like me the opportunity to progress further.  Because we could, possibly, be “a distraction.”

There are currently no “out” sportscasters in major markets or on major networks.  Hell, I just did an internet search and I can't find one anywhere, large market or small.  That's fairly remarkable.  I say “out,” because there are gay men women in the industry out there.  They have just remained in the closet due to serious career fears…much like athletes have.  Much like Michael Sam did.

If I want to progress further in my career and get a big role here in New Orleans, or a big market, or big network, people like Tony Dungy wouldn't let me do it.  They say I'd be too big of “a distraction.”  I could have talent enough to get there, but if Dungy were running things I'd be out of luck.

That is why I find the oft-used "distraction" argument against Michael Sam, frankly, disgusting.  Like Dungy, it is another way for people to hide their true beliefs about people like me.

“Distraction” has become synonymous with “gay.” And people are getting away with it.

Michael Sam is “a distraction.”  Jason Collins is “a distraction.”  Robin Roberts & Anderson Cooper, both “distractions” for their networks.   

It's all been said ad nauseam, and it's not true.

Ask Ram's head coach Jeff Fisher. He said there were a couple of extra camera's early in OTAs, but the “distraction” thing, to him, is a myth.

There was so little “distraction” surrounding Jason Collins and the Brooklyn Nets that I almost forget he un-retired.

Frankly, I'm tired of people using "it'll be a distraction" as an excuse for their belief system.  Let's get real again, when you say “distraction,” you mean gay.

Dungy, and his defenders, say increased media scrutiny could come from being the first gay football player and that's the reason not to let him play.  He'd be too distracting.  I'm sure they'd all say the same if I got an opportunity to broadcast on a major network.  I'd be too distracting.

What they really mean is "too gay.”

Will Michael Sam make an NFL roster?  Maybe.  I bet he's tired of hearing he won't make it because he's a distraction.  Jeff Fisher, the man who counts, doesn't think he is.  If Fisher cuts Sam it will be because he wasn't good enough.   

I'm glad it's Fisher, not Dungy, making that call.

Tony Dungy photo via Jeffrey Beall, Flickr

07/23/2014 3:26PM
Seth: Tony Dungy was talking about me
Please Enter Your Comments Below
07/23/2014 4:37PM
football not sexual preference
Really guy? It's about football and putting the best players on the team and to prepare them to win at all costs. Including eliminating distractions. Hence Sam. He promoted himself as gay to gain attention (selfish) nothing more nothing less. SinceI'm responding do you need to know my sexual preference? Will it matter? Tony has a religious belief and he stands by it. Get over yourself.
07/23/2014 6:51PM
Tony has an opinion! Last I checked that is something "ALL" Americans are entitled to. You had an "opinion" to what Tony Dungy said. Isn't America great!
07/23/2014 8:48PM
He wouldnt want the distraction of the "gay" player on his team...doesnt mean hes anti gay. I wouldnt want Tebow anywhere near my team...wouldnt want Mike Vick either. I wouldnt want ANY player that would bring any extra bullsheet to my team. Sorry you're hyper sensitive to being gay..move on dude
07/23/2014 11:36PM
Do people actually read?
Seems like nobody actually read his full article based on the comments here and on facebook. Not sure what is so controversial about this article. He praised Dungy, and said he disagreed and told his story. Pretty straightforward and level headed to me.
07/24/2014 7:38AM
look at me I'm Gay!
Just like Sam took it upon himself to self promote himself it seems to me Seth that you did just that. No one cares if you are gay except you and the worthless media. I would like the past few minutes of my life back. Seriously WWL? FAIL!
07/27/2014 2:53PM
thankfully not everyone in history felt that way
Jackie Robinson was a BIG distraction to baseball, thankfully someone had enough guts not to care and give him the chance to showcase his talents.
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