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Tony Dungy and the Responsibility of Head Coaches

Late as usual on this, but I wanted to give props where they're due and examine what I think is an interesting topic in the NFL right now. There's a civil yet heated debate going on over at Stampede Blue about Dungy's recent speech at an Indiana Family Institute banquet where he essentially said he doesn't believe in gay marriage. What's perhaps more controversial is that he's lending his name to the Indiana Family Institute, who's name could be more accurately summed up as the Indiana Anti-Gay Family Institute. I'm not passing judgment; it's just that I've noticed a lot of family groups are more concerned with preventing some families from happening than they are about providing tangible help for the families that are already out there. I think I just physically abused the word family. Sorry.

But I'm less concerned with Tony Dungy having that opinion, which he is absolutely entitled to. The real issue here is that Dungy is an NFL head coach. By all accounts, he's one of the nicest, most decent people in the NFL, and this speech of his doesn't change my opinion of him one bit. There are a lot of good people who don't believe in gay marriage, and whether or not I disagree with them, I'm certainly not going to lambast them for moral reasons. Instead, I'm concerned with how he's representing his franchise.

Whether any of us like to admit it or not, a certain percentage of football fans are gay. How high is that percentage? Who the hell knows. But BigBlueShoe is right about one thing more than anything else: this sends the message to Colts fans--gay or not--that Dungy isn't really a big fan of homosexuals. That's a message that inevitably will cause some fans to overreact and peg the entire organization with that point of view, and it's also a message that would probably get any head coach except Tony Dungy in deep shit. One of the things you forfeit as a professional athlete or coach is the right to say whatever you want. It's a bastion of controlled speech, because every sport is worried about their image. That's part of the reason that all we ever hear is the same canned bullshit over and over, and if someone says something remotely offensive or out of character the media pulls out the long knives. John Rocker deserved to be kicked in the ass for his comments, but they've haunted him ever since. Even the most tame joke is blown up and dissected for days.

To me, it's not a matter of whether you agree with Dungy or not. It's just that he, like other coaches and players, forfeits the right to parade his views around in a public setting once he starts raking in the dough. I'm sure Dungy doesn't think this is a big deal, his players don't think it's a big deal, and there's a very good chance the Colts could care less as well. That speaks to a culture that is only partially relevant to what I'm saying. The right to free speech is a powerful one, and one I'm not interested in taking away from anyone except Dick Vitale. But when the group approached Dungy about speaking, he should've done the thing that would've prevented any controversy and any negative consequences at all. The thing that would've allowed him to have his views, make them clear to the people that matter to him, and kept him out of the spotlight for something like this.

He should've kept his mouth shut.