(This story was published in 2007).
(Editor's note: Update of Dungy's speech at the bottom).
Tony Dungy has every right to speak at a dinner of the Indiana Family Institute, which opposes gay rights. But he needs to be accountable for whether he shares the group's political goals.
Dungy, head coach of the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, has raised eyebrows by being the honored guest at the IFI's $75-a-plate "Friends of the Family" benefit on March 20. The event is expected to draw 700 people and raise $50,000, the Indianapolis Star reported. Dungy gives the dinner real star power since no previous event has drawn more than 440 people, the Star said.
IFI is a political advocacy group with a very clear agenda, summed up on its website: "Throughout its 16-year history, the Indiana Family Institute has sought to bring Biblical values and Biblical ethics to the public policy making process in Indiana. To this end, we have opposed all efforts to create or advance special civil or legal rights for homosexuals."
The group is very active in trying to push an amendment to the Indiana constitution that would ban same-sex marriage. It also opposed the decision by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels in 2005 that added sexual orientation to the list of protected categories in state employment. There is no mistaking what the IFI stands for when it comes to gay rights – it opposes them in every instance.
Does Dungy share these beliefs? We don't know because he's not talking and this is very disappointing. The Colts did not respond to three separate requests from Outsports for an interview, and the Indianapolis Star and AP were also turned down.
Is Dungy a homophobe? I won't label him as such until I hear his views on gay issues. IFI President Curt Smith, perhaps trying to give the coach cover, told the Star that "he hasn't discussed public policy with Dungy and is unaware of the coach's views on the marriage amendment. He said it would be wrong to assume anything about Dungy's views on that issue." Smith said that, "The goal of this award is to celebrate people who live out the family ethic that we think is essential to healthy families. You don't have to agree with us on all of our public policy issues." (The Colts are keeping their distance, telling AP: "The Colts do not endorse any political or religious position taken by any group that any Colts employee decides to speak or lend his or her name to.'')
Why the silence from Dungy? He has always been very vocal about his strong Christian beliefs, and regularly cites God when he talks, including after winning the AFC title game and the Super Bowl this past season. "The Lord orchestrated this," Dungy said on the NFL Network about Indy's Super Bowl season.
When the coach of the Super Bowl champs accepts an award from a group that actively opposes gay rights, he can't hide behind the Colts PR department, which told the Star he was too busy to comment. His appearance at the dinner is endorsing IFI and raising it more money than any previous event. These are the unanswered questions we sent to Colts PR head Craig Kelley about which we wanted Dungy to answer:
--Does he endorse IFI's views on gay rights and gay marriage? What are his views on the subject?
--What is his purpose for speaking before IFI? The group is very up front about its desire to have a political impact and does he share that advocacy?
--Does he agree or not with Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith's take on having a gay player: "We don't try to judge people's lifestyles and things like that. We don't get into people's personal lives in that way. We judge players based on one thing: Can they play football? If you can play football, you can get into the locker room."
--Has he ever coached a player as an assistant or head coach he knew was gay, and if so, did his relationship change with this player and how so?
Those are pretty simple questions that Dungy can easily answer. Many of the people on various Colts message boards who support Dungy are claiming that gay people are trying to deny him his 1st Amendment rights. Nothing can be further from the truth.
I defend Dungy's right to say and believe anything he wants and to speak to whomever he wants. But I also have a right to ask for answers from a person who is accepting an award from a group that is political in nature and seeks to influence public policy. Silence won't cut it. This is akin to politicians like George W. Bush and John McCain, who were forced to publicly defend their appearances at Bob Jones University, a school that had a tradition of racist policies.
Dungy's supporters on Star message boards (more than 600 comments were posted about his dinner appearance) assume he believes like they do. "Dungy not only has the right to oppose homos, he should be THANKED for representing our God-fearing city the way most of us would want him to," read one post that was, sadly, representative of majority opinion on the subject ("You don't have to be a right-winger to be repulsed by homosexuality," said another poster).
As a Colts fan who watched virtually every play of the glorious 2006 season, I've always been impressed by Dungy's demeanor and class. He's someone who has proved you don't have to be an arrogant, anti-social control freak to be a successful head coach, and I am always impressed about how his players – past and present – speak of him with a mixture of awe and reverence.
Dungy has never come across as a hater. I would like to think that Dungy does not embrace the views of his "supporters" who write things like, "I feel BAD for queers. They're seriously like retarded or something." Until he clearly articulates his thoughts on the issue of gays and gay rights, though, I can only conclude that he shares the same world view, if not the vile language. Dungy needs to defend the company he keeps or distance himself from it.
March 21 update: Here is what Dungy said at the March 20 IFI dinner about the group's support for gay marriage: ""I appreciate the stance they're taking, and I embrace that stance. ... IFI is saying what the Lord says. You can take that and make your decision on which way you want to be. I'm on the Lord's side."
The coach said his comments shouldn't be taken as gay bashing, but rather his views on the matter as he sees them from a perspective of faith, the Indianapolis Star reported.
"We're not anti- anything else. We're not trying to downgrade anyone else. But we're trying to promote the family -- family values the Lord's way," Dungy said.
That pretty much clinches it for me: Dungy is a homophobe. He "embraces" the agenda of a political group that pushes anti-gay legislation and endorses policies to "cure" homosexuals. His appearance at the dinner raised $70,000 -- $50,000 in ticket sales and $20,000 from the sale of autographed Colts merchandise. He may want to believe his stand does not amount to gay bashing but he's wrong. Actively endorsing and raising significant money for an anti-gay group makes you anti-gay, and no amount of spin will change that. (--Jim Buzinski)