Tony Dungy Responds to Critics After Saying He Wouldn't Draft Michael Sam

Courtesy of OWN

The NBC analyst and Super Bowl-winning coach has taken heat for saying he "wouldn't want to deal" with having the NFL's first openly gay player on his team.

Tony Dungy, a former NFL head coach, player and current analyst for NBC's Football Night in America, has issued a statement clarifying controversial comments he made recently about St. Louis Rams defensive end Michael Sam.

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Dungy's statement addresses a recent interview he gave with the Tampa Tribune in which he said he wouldn't have selected Sam in the NFL draft. In the interview, which was published Sunday, Dungy said he "wouldn't want to deal with all of it," as "it's not going to be smooth." Sam came out as gay in February 2014 and became the first openly gay player ever taken in the NFL draft when the Rams picked him in the seventh round in May. 

Dungy, who became the first African-American head coach to win the Super Bowl when he led the Indianapolis Colts to the NFL championship in February 2007, issued a statement on Tuesday, explaining that he was "quite surprised" that his comments about Sam caused such a stir.

"I gave my honest answer, which is that I felt drafting him would bring much distraction to the team," Dungy said in the email statement to The Hollywood Reporter. He added: "I feel badly that my remarks played a role in the distraction."

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Fueling the outcry this week is the fact that Dungy, 58, served as a mentor to Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick when he was released from prison in 2009 after being convicted of dog fighting, with many accusing him of now being hypocritical. 

The evangelical Christian, who is aligned with the conservative Indiana Family Institute and has openly supported an amendment to the Indiana constitution which would have defined marriage as solely between one man and one woman, clarified that the interview was conducted "several weeks ago," just after it was announced that Sam would star in a reality series on the Oprah Winfrey Network, which was postponed in mid-May.

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Plans for the reality show have since been put on hold indefinitely, with the network's president explaining that Sam's current focus is solely on making the team. The St. Louis Rams' training camp opens July 25. 

In Tuesday's statement, Dungy emphasized that playing in the NFL is about merit, not sexuality, and the best players make the team. "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 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," he concluded.