At the risk of sounding pollyanna, the most noteworthy aspect of the aftermath of Tony Dungy’s comments Sunday about Michael Sam was the nearly universal criticism of them. For the reasons Olbermann’s enumerated last night, I think Dungy’s “distraction” argument is more or less BS. Apparently, so do the vast majority of columnists and others with media platforms.
In 2007, Dungy received an award from the Indiana Family Institute, an organization aligned with the odious James Dobson. The fact that he was to receive the award first surfaced during Super Bowl week, when Dungy was on the cusp of making history as the first black coach to win a Super Bowl. In March of that year, when Dungy spoke to the group and received the award, he said that he embraced the IFI’s opposition to gay marriage. The timing was interested because, in the previous couple of weeks, former NBA player John Amaechi said he was gay, touching off an intensive discussions about gay athletes. That series of events is most memorable because Tim Hardaway, Sr. said he hated gays and would not want to play with a gay teammate, a statement for which he was widely attacked. Hardaway, Sr. has had a well-documented change of heart in subsequent years.
In part because Dungy has attributed his feelings about gays to the bible, he’s tended to get a pass for what is, in the end of the day, simple bigotry. In the wake of the Hobby Lobby decision, I’ve been thinking lately about religious belief as a privileged form of consciousness. There has been a dramatic change between 2007 and today with respect to attitudes about gay rights and so on. But Dungy’s faith, much like Chris Broussard’s, has tended mitigate judgments about his views of gays versus other kinds of anti-gay avowals.
In that light, here’s what I wrote in 2007 about Dungy vs. Hardaway:
“…it’s fascinating to ponder the differences in the reaction to Dungy’s position compared with Hardaway’s. One of Hardaway’s no-nos was that he said he “hated” gays. Additionally, Hardaway also failed to couch his arguments in religious terms. Hence, his anti-gay sentiments lacked the credibility that religiously based opposition to homosexuality still enjoys. But, is the difference in their positions really significant? One arguable point of difference is that Dungy can still say, and presumably believes, that one can “hate the sin and love the sinner.” Hardaway, though he has now repeatedly backed off his original comments, could not stand on similar ground. That difference aside, there’s little credible in Dungy’s sentiments. The notion that the IFI isn’t “anti anything” or trying to “downgrade anything” is obviously false on its face. It’s the very purpose of the anti gay marriage movement to downgrade or, more properly, to prevent from attaining equal status, same-sex marriage alongside opposite-sex marriage. That insistence on codifying the greater status of one over the other is the raison d’etre of the movement.
And, the contention that anti- gay marriage advocates are not anti gay is similarly unserious. Almost all cite the bible, as Dungy does here, to support their position. But, the bible, of course, does not condemn gay marriage specifically. It condemns homsexuality in toto as “abomination.” So, Dungy is simply being disingenuous to cite the bible as the authority for his position on gay marriage while insisting he’s not anti gay, when the bible’s specific prohibition is against homosexuality, not gay marriage per se.
Furthermore, the notion that the handful of biblical references to homosexuality amounts to a credible defense of a discriminatory public policy position in contemporary America is also deeply flawed. The bible prohibits many things, including: charging interest, dishonoring parents (penalty: death), having sex with a woman during menstruation (penalty: death), adultery (penalty: death) and allows other things (like slavery) that we find abhorrent and unacceptable. How it is that gay marriage has been raised to the position of the practice most needing condemnation and legal prohibition is unclear, because nowhere does the bible rank order condemned practices (For a good discussion of some of the problems in using the bible as a basis for contemporary public policy debates, go here).
Dungy’s entitled to his position, of course. But, I stand by what I have said about him previously: given the endless harping on character that is a staple of sports discourse, it’s frankly bizarre that someone can maintain such a clear and blatant prejudice without any questioning his character when, by contrast, Tim Hardaway was absolutely vilified for his remarks. To repeat, I understand that a distinction can be made. But, the fact is that Dungy has lined himself up with forces that do, in fact, preach hatred of gays and have promoted an issue that has the effect of further marginalizing and vilifying an already marginalized and vilified group.
I am inclined to think that Dungy is not acting with willful malice here. But, he’s fully responsible for his prejudice, whether or not he cites the bible to back him up. Slaveowners did the samething 150 years ago.”
Update: Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky is pissed by a debate on ESPN’s First Take this morning between Bayless and Stephen A. in which Stephen A. says Dungy’s comments ought not to be controversial at all. Petchesky finds objectionable ESPN’s legitimizing of bigotry by turning Dungy’s remarks into a debate about “distraction”:
a bullshit, mealy-mouthed, value-neutral word that allows homophobia to be treated with the same sterile gloves as other news items. You can shove a lot under the “distraction” umbrella—there, a gay player is no different than a player who beats his wife, or a player who speaks out on social causes, or a player who runs a dogfighting ring, or (40 years ago) a black player”
Among Stephen A’s arguments was that while it’s wrong that people are prejudiced against gays, gays don’t have the “right” to insist that people are comfortable with them.
You know what else people don’t have the “right” to? Being immune from criticism when people don’t like what you say. No one is suggesting that Tony Dungy suffer *any* legal harm because of his views about gays. But here’s the bottom line: Dungy has associated himself with noxious organizations propounding hateful views. As a result, he very much does not deserve the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his views on this subject. Call it unfair. But it’s people’s right to remember the very clear “principles” he has avowed.