‘Thank God He Wasn’t the St. Louis Rams Coach’: NFL’s First Openly Gay Player Responds to Tony Dungy’s Controversial Remarks

Amid the furor over ex-NFL coach Tony Dungy saying he wouldn’t have drafted him, Michael Sam — the first openly gay player in the NFL — responded to the controversy with apparent humor.

“Thank God he wasn’t the St. Louis Rams coach,” Sam told Nick Wagoner, ESPN’s beat writer for the St. Louis Rams, adding a laugh.

Rams defensive end Michael Sam practices during the first day of NFL football training camp for rookies on Tuesday, July 22, 2014, at Rams Park in Earth City, Mo. (Image source: AP/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Huy Mach)

“I have a lot of respect for Coach Dungy,” Sam also told Wagoner on Tuesday. “And like everyone in America, everyone is entitled to their own opinions.”

Dungy was initially quoted by the Tampa Tribune as saying, “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.” Dungy also added, “It’s not going to be totally smooth … things will happen.”

FILE- In this Feb. 4, 2007, file photo, Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, left, reacts after getting doused after the Colts’ 29-17 win over the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl XLI football game at Dolphin Stadium in Miami. (Image source: AP/David J. Phillip, File)

After Sam became one the last players selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, his on-camera kiss with a man sparked heated debate. One player was fined an undisclosed amount and was directed to undergo educational training after posting negative tweets about Sam following the draft announcement.

Dungy has also clarified his comments to the Tribune, emphasizing on Tuesday that Sam’s sexual orientation would be a distraction in the media, not for fellow players or the organization.

Here’s Dungy’s complete statement posted on Pro Football Talk:

On Monday afternoon while on vacation with my family, I was quite surprised to read excerpts from an interview I gave several weeks ago related to this year’s NFL Draft, and I feel compelled to clarify those remarks.

I was asked whether I would have drafted Michael Sam and I answered that I would not have drafted him. I gave my honest answer, which is that I felt drafting him would bring much distraction to the team. At the time of my interview, the Oprah Winfrey reality show that was going to chronicle Michael’s first season had been announced.

I was not asked whether or not Michael Sam deserves an opportunity to play in the NFL. He absolutely does.

I was not asked whether his sexual orientation should play a part in the evaluation process. It should not.

I was not asked whether I would have a problem having Michael Sam on my team. I would not.

I have been asked all of those questions several times in the last three months and have always answered them the same way—by saying that playing in the NFL is, and should be, about merit.

The best players make the team, and everyone should get the opportunity to prove whether they’re good enough to play. That’s my opinion as a coach. But those were not the questions I was asked.

What I was asked about was my philosophy of drafting, a philosophy that was developed over the years, which was to minimize distractions for my teams.

I do not believe Michael’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. Unfortunately we are all seeing this play out now, and I feel badly that my remarks played a role in the distraction.

I wish Michael Sam nothing but the best in his quest to become a star in the NFL and I am confident he will get the opportunity to show what he can do on the field.

My sincere hope is that we will be able to focus on his play and not on his sexual orientation.

ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith, who had stated in the wake of the Sam kiss that fining players for their opinions is “very, very dangerous” thing, defended Dungy’s initial comments about not drafting Sam.