Coach Tony Dungy said he wouldn’t have taken openly gay player Michael Sam because “things will happen.”
All of Missouri was glued to their televisions while one player after the other was picked for the NFL draft in early May. We were all hoping above all hope that openly gay player Michael Sam would get picked. I was at a conference and walked by the University of Missouri booth, where they had the radio on, listening. I stood with them and listened. We were so afraid. Finally, delight rolled across our faces. He was picked! The St. Louis Rams broke through the small-mindedness that seems to hijack some of the brains of the powers that be.
Now Sam has a chance to excel and prove himself on the gridiron.
But over the weekend, when I heard Super Bowl winning coach Tony Dungy’s remarks about the Rams’ pick, I cringed. Dungy said he wouldn’t have chosen Sam in the draft because “things will happen.” This coming from an African American player turned coach. What if the Steelers hadn’t taken him because black coaches weren’t the “in” thing back in the day? We would still be back in the 1950s. It seems these people who broke through barriers sometimes have short memories.
The Rams got a hell of a guy, and a great ballplayer. Sam is smart, honest, and forthright. What types of things does Dungy think could happen? I have my guesses, of course. But first, think of what could have happened had he not come out as an openly gay player. He would have been much higher in the draft, no doubt, and then what if someone exposed him in the middle of the season? Now, that would be chaos. One hell of a mess.
But no, Sam didn’t do that because he is a powerful young man who isn’t afraid to speak his truth. He wanted to be accepted for who he is and how he can play. His fellow teammates at Missouri had no problem with it, so one would think that when we move from college age athletes to grown men (athletes) that we would be going even further up the chain of acceptance and understanding.
But when I heard Dungy’s remark, I immediately wondered if he was thinking about how the players would have reacted years ago. Or does he mostly think Sam will “spread the gay virus”? Is that what he is saying?
What he is saying is that the things that already do happen in the NFL—like players running dog fighting rings, being convicted of rape, murder, cheating on their wives, and driving drunk—isn’t as bad as being openly gay.
Whatever it is that has him so worried, he is clearly out of touch. The whole thing reminds me of the crowds of scared children streaming across our borders, and all of the ugly people screaming at them telling them to go home. We were all immigrants, what short memories so many of us have.
C. Susan Nunn is the author of Song of the Earth, a novel which has just been released. Susan holds an MFA, with a dual concentration in Fiction and Creative Non-fiction, from Antioch University Los Angeles. Susan worked as an innkeeper on the US-Mexican border for 12 years, and is a tireless advocate for human rights. She lives in Joplin, Missouri, with her father and Harry, her black lab.