The now-retired Indianapolis Colts head coach deserves praise for good deeds and a scarred reputation for hurting gay people
I met the retirement of Colts coach Tony Dungy this week with much glee. The anti-gay coach who has used Christianity to explain his personal beliefs and who has helped at least one anti-gay organization raise tens of thousands of dollars won’t have his perch in the NFL to preach his anti-gay message from anymore, and that’s encouraging.
But I was met with a heavy heart as I started thinking about the free time he’ll now have to spread his anti-gay interpretation of Christianity. It’s that free time for Dungy that one of my colleagues finds encouraging.
Openly gay ESPN columnist LZ Granderson’s latest column is an open apology to Dungy. Granderson apologizes for not coming to Dungy’s defense when the coach was chastised for helping a rabidly anti-gay group raise money in 2007 and said homosexuality is against his beliefs. Granderson’s reason for giving Dungy a pass on his anti-gay actions: He’s a good black Dad.
This is why I am apologizing for not coming to your defense. While gay marriage is an issue about equal treatment under the law, what the black community is dealing with is a crisis that threatens its very existence. As an NFL coach, you have not only talked about the crisis, you have followed your heart to do something about it -- working with some of those misguided men through prison ministry as well as through mentoring programs in Indianapolis.
One of the things I like most about Granderson is that he doesn’t just march in lock-step with the “gay company line.” He thinks for himself, makes his own priorities, and is always authentically himself. I think he does a great service by often going against the grain in his columns, and I appreciate that a great deal; I also often agree with things he says.
Here, I couldn’t disagree with him more.
I don’t think anyone deserves a pass for being anti-gay. No politician, no entertainer, no athlete, no friend. That doesn’t mean we should hate them the way they hate us; But we also shouldn’t fully embrace them, either. Dungy is no exception. He certainly has done some wonderful things, and he should be lauded and rewarded for those. He is generally regarded as a man of integrity by those in the NFL; That’s great. As Granderson points out, he works with down-on-their-luck black men to lift them up and give them a new lease on life; For that he should be honored. And he rose up the coaching ranks as a black man and was the first black head coach to raise the Lombardi Trophy; He is an inspiration for that.
But for his anti-gay positions and actions, he deserves no defense from any gay person, our family members, our friends or our allies.
Dungy isn’t just against gay marriage, he’s against homosexuality. He’s against one of the main aspects of my identity – of who I am – that defines every gay person, whether we want to admit it or not. And he is vocal about it. Many sports casters, coaches and players have lost their jobs because they are racist or sexist; The same standard should hold for homophobes. Instead, Granderson gives Dungy a pass because he’ll be reaching out to black men to help them set their lives straight. He’ll be using his ministry to do that: Dungy will be preaching the “good word” to help lead more black men to salvation. But it’s that same ministry that is the foundation for Dungy’s anti-gay beliefs and anti-gay political positions. To me, Granderson is saying: “I’m OK with you spreading your anti-gay interpretation of Christianity, because black men need your help more than gay men.”
I simply can’t accept that. Not when teenagers are still killing themselves because they are gay. Not when people are being murdered on the streets because they are thought to be gay. Not when anti-gay sentiment like Dungy’s continues to dominate sports, gay and lesbian athletes and coaches are stuffed in the closet, and we at Outsports continue to get emails like this one from a collegiate athlete that we just got this week…
Anyway, I've had major issues with my sexuality because I'm a college [athlete] and it's just tearing my life apart day by day, I can't stand the stress anymore but I'm fucking afraid of coming out or being hurt, I just don't want to. I cry myself to sleep at times and I can't stand it.
Instead of making the sports world more open to a young athlete like this, Dungy, the father of a boy who himself decided to take his life, preached homophobia and raised money to fight gay equality.
To me, good deeds do not erase sin; Dungy should be attacked for his anti-gay actions while praised for what he is doing for black men. Both are important pieces of who this man is.
There have been people in sports for many years who have shown their anti-gay bias. John Rocker is the poster-child, saying he didn’t want to ride a sub¬way with queers and people with HIV. Tim Hardaway said he hated gay people. Jeremy Shockey said he didn’t want to play on a team with a gay man. All of these are bad. But to me, Dungy is the worst of them all. He is unapologetic for his anti-gay actions and defends them. He raised tens of thousands of dollars for an anti-gay organization whose primary goal is to undermine the rights of every gay person.
And for that he deserves the scar on his record that will linger with him in the minds of fair-minded people forever.