Editor’s Note: This article is the second of two parts examining the anti-LGBT past and present of Hall of Fame former NFL coach and current NBC Sports analyst Tony Dungy. You can read part one here.
Tony Dungy will be a huge part of NBC’s NFL Playoffs coverage through January, as the network hosts two Wild Card games and a Divisional Round game.
The Super Bowl-winning coach has been part of NBC’s NFL crew since 2009, and NBC has selected Dungy to be the analyst in the booth with Al Michaels when the Jacksonville Jaguars host the Los Angeles Chargers this Saturday.
His on-field NFL resume is impeccable. He won a Super Bowl as a player with the Pittsburgh Steelers — intercepting nine passes in 30 regular season games — and then with the Indianapolis Colts as the team’s head coach, the first Black man to do so, an historic feat.
As a head coach he had only one losing record in his 13 NFL seasons, which came in his first season with the then-troubled Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016.
When he was hired by NBC, he seemed to many like the perfect fit as an NFL analyst, someone who’d won the Super Bowl as a coach and a player and was widely respected across the league.
At the same time, Dungy had by then established himself as possibly the most publicly anti-gay person in at least the recent history of the NFL, raising money to fight against same-sex marriage, and since then publicly decrying the homosexuality of gay athletes and partnering with rabidly anti-gay organizations and individuals.
Through it all, NBC has stood by their man, saying nothing about his anti-LGBT bigotry that he himself has said is rooted in his Christian beliefs. True to form, NBC declined to comment for this story.
Now with NBC again poised to showcase Dungy’s voice on one of the biggest national TV stages of the year, LGBT fans will see and hear Dungy as they hope to cheer for their favorite team. Many of them don’t like that one bit.
Tony Dungy’s history of anti-gay actions and rhetoric
The public debate about Dungy’s anti-gay leanings started in earnest in 2006.
That year, Dungy was the headliner at a fundraiser for the Indiana Family Institute, whose primary objective was to oppose same-sex marriage. The event’s invitation featured a picture of Dungy coaching an NFL game in his Colts attire, with assurances that “an opportunity to financially support the Indiana Family Institute” would be available.
“I appreciate the stance [IFI is] taking, and I embrace that stance,” Dungy said during the IFI fundraiser of the group’s opposition to same-sex marriage. “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.”
In 2013, when NBA player Jason Collins came out publicly as gay, Dungy said he doesn’t “agree with Jason Collins’ lifestyle.”
The following year, after Michael Sam came out publicly as gay and was drafted by the St. Louis Rams, Dungy said he would not have wanted Sam on his team.
“I wouldn’t have taken him,” Dungy said of the Rams drafting Sam. And wait for it... “I wouldn’t want to deal with all of it. It’s not going to be totally smooth ... things will happen.”
Even at the time it seemed strange that this man — regarded as a great leader — would feel like he couldn’t lead a team past a couple extra cameras around the practice facility. Dungy claimed at the time he didn’t like that Sam was going to be followed by a documentary-film crew.
Yet not long before that, Dungy had publicly advocated for Michael Vick — convicted in federal court of murdering dogs for sport — to be hired by an NFL team, while Vick was (like Sam) being followed by a documentary-film crew. Later that same year, Dungy said he’d welcome Ray Rice — indicted and suspended by the league for assaulting his girlfriend — onto his team.
It’s hard to come to any other conclusion: Dungy would welcome a convicted dog-murderer and indicted woman-beater onto his team, but he wouldn’t want anything to do with an out gay player.
Dungy has continued to make comments on Twitter about homosexuality. He insists that being LGBTQ is a “lifestyle” despite knowing the opposition to this rhetoric:
You and I disagree about whether LGBTQ is a lifestyle. But that has nothing to do with how I “treat people”. There was a lot more in my comments in that story that never got written. But that happens a lot. We’re seeing that today.— Tony Dungy (@TonyDungy) June 7, 2020
He has also continued to assert that homosexuality is a sin:
Homosexuality was a concept when the Bible was written. There are passages in the Bible that deal directly with that.— Tony Dungy (@TonyDungy) August 31, 2021
Almost all of this public opposition to same-sex marriage and the LGBT community has been while he’s been employed by NBC.
Dungy continues to support anti-LGBT people and organizations today
Over the last few years, Dungy has been a speaker at multiple fundraisers for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which bars LGBT people from leadership positions and — at least until recently — included opposition to same-sex marriage as one of its nine main statements of faith.
In addition, Dungy and CBS Sports host James Brown have been featured speakers at an event with preacher Andrew Wommack, one of the most anti-gay evangelists in America.
Wommack said in 2021 that gay people should have a “hazardous label across their forehead,” and that being gay was, for your health, “three times worse than smoking [cigarettes].”
This is the man Dungy is supporting:
Right wing Christian Nationalist Pastor Andrew Wommack claims that being gay is "three times worse than smoking," so gay people "ought to put a label across their forehead, 'This can be hazardous to your health.'" pic.twitter.com/u5nE6fXQlo— Mark (@Ma_rk76) September 16, 2021
Wommack said in 2022 that being transgender is a “lie” that came “from the devil. ... Satan is the author of it.”
Dungy will again take the stage with Wommack at the next Men’s Advance event this March, hosted by the Charis Bible College, which centers anti-gay doctrine.
Sports-media personalities fired for anti-LGBT statements
NBC’s embrace of Dungy — and their complete silence — despite his clear and long-standing association with anti-gay positions, is in contrast to the public actions and statements other networks and organizations have made in similar situations.
The Cincinnati Reds fired longtime broadcaster Thom Brennaman for a flippant anti-gay slur caught on a hot mic. Despite Brennaman’s apology and years-long embrace of the LGBT community, that one moment has upended his career.
Curt Schilling was quickly fired by ESPN after the World Series champion posted an unflattering image of someone he called transgender and publicly spoke out against trans people.
Yet it’s the demise of the broadcast career of Craig James that parallels Dungy the best (sans Hall of Fame career). James was fired by Fox Sports for speaking out against same-sex marriage years ago.
Dungy has avoided any of that, despite also speaking out against same-sex marriage and decrying homosexuality as a “lifestyle” he doesn’t agree with.
Various people across the NFL praise Dungy
While Dungy has made his anti-gay positions widely known, that hasn’t stopped many people from praising him as a “role model” and a “leader.”
Jay Feely, a former NFL kicker and current CBS analyst, recently said he admires Dungy as “a man more than anything”:
Tony Dungy won a Super Bowl as HC— Jay Feely (@jayfeely) December 20, 2022
Played in the NFL
Works as a studio analyst on NBC
But I respect him as a man more than anything he has done in football.
Here he is (without any fanfare) quietly volunteereing with The Salvation Army at the local grocery store-Servant leader pic.twitter.com/A5749xojsM
Words like “class” and “dignity” are often used to describe Dungy by non-LGBT people.
Marvin Harrison, the former Colts wide receiver who’s also now in the Hall of Fame, said Dungy taught him how to be a “man.”
NFL writer Peter King, whose daughter is gay and who has helped advance conversations about LGBT people in and around football, has praised Dungy as a “leader.”
Former NFL defensive end Esera Tuaolo, who came out publicly 20 years ago, played for Dungy for four seasons when he was the defensive coordinator with the Minnesota Vikings.
Tuaolo had glowing reviews of Dungy as a football coach, while also saying he’s conflicted about Dungy due to his clear advocacy against the LGBT community.
“He was always a kind-hearted man everyone looked up to,” Tuaolo said of his former coach. “He was very motivating and always steering us in a way of doing good in our lives and doing positive things and being a role model.”
Tuaolo said Dungy’s anti-gay past and present actions sting.
“When I hear all of the stuff he’s said about my community, it hurts me. It’s conflicting to me because I know the person. Playing for him I never heard him say anything anti-gay or use gay slurs. I understand why some people are enraged at him, for him to support organizations that are anti-gay and work with them.”
Tuaolo — who grew up in the Assembly of God Pentecostal Church — said he looks forward to an opportunity to talk with Dungy more about this, Christian to Christian.
Interestingly, I could find no mention from any other person associated with the NFL of Dungy’s opposition to LGBT rights or the gay community. It’s as though his bigotry on these topics doesn’t exist for many people across the NFL.
Dungy on LGBT coaches — the smallest minority in the NFL
While Dungy has spoken in favor of broader hiring for Black and racial-minority NFL coaches, he has spoken against gay people every time he’s spoken publicly about the topic, never advocating for the minority of minorities in NFL coaching: LGBT coaches.
Case in point: We cannot find a single instance when Dungy publicly praised Katie Sowers, the first out LGBT coach in NFL history and one of the first women.
While Dungy has spoken publicly about his frustration with the seemingly low number of Black head coaches in the NFL, to him it seems as though LGBT coaches don’t exist (they most definitely do).
That speaks volumes for someone who claims to advocate for minorities in coaching positions, given Sowers was not just gay, but also a woman.
Should Dungy be given a national TV platform by NBC Sports?
Depending on whom you ask, Dungy is a “role model” and a “leader” who blazed a trail for Black NFL coaches, or a bigot who hates homosexuality and gay people and opposes same-sex marriage.
Yet all of the above can be true at the same time.
Regardless of his contributions to the lives of some, Dungy’s presence on NBC’s NFL coverage stings many fans who are gay or who embrace LGBT equality.
“It is disheartening,” said RK Russell, who played for Dungy’s old team in Tampa Bay, and who came out as bisexual while an NFL free agent in 2019. “He was someone I looked up to, being a Black coach and a coach who wasn’t the stereotypical get-in-your-face-and-curse-you-out. It’s disheartening when someone you admire doesn’t line up with how they feel. It’s upsetting.
“But we have to hold people accountable, particularly a public figure.”
Russell’s upcoming memoir, The Yards Between Us, delves into his youth, facing racism as a young Black man in football and looking for inspiration from people like Dungy.
When reached for comment, GLAAD, the national LGBT media-advocacy organization, focused on including more LGBT voices to offset the presence of a homophobe like Dungy.
“This year the NFL hired more women and out LGBTQ women as coaches than ever before, and has out players, employees, and legions of LGBTQ fans. It is imperative that networks airing the games accurately represent this growing visibility in the league and audience, and give those voices a chance to be seen and heard.
“Commentators who speak out against the legal and human rights of LGBTQ people and advocate against us are a distraction and a disservice to football fans.”
Steve Kornacki, who is publicly out as gay, is part of NBC’s NFL coverage along with Dungy, though Kornacki is pretty quiet on being a member of the LGBT community. He never talks personally about LGBT rights the way Dungy does. On Twitter, his only time he has mentioned of the word “gay” was in 2018 about his coverage of former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey.
An Outsports Twitter poll this week asking how it would feel to watch an NFL commentator who has publicly advocated against LGBT rights showed 96% would not like it, with 88% describing it as “painful”:
If you had to watch a pro-sports TV analyst talk about his sport - and he had opposed LGBT equality and today embraces and supports an anti-gay preacher - how would you feel?— Outsports (@outsports) January 9, 2023
The LGBT community gets the silent treatment
Dungy has raised money to fight against marriage equality for same-sex couples. He has said he doesn’t agree with a gay athlete’s “lifestyle.” He has hidden behind nonsense about cameras to oppose having a gay athlete on his team. He embraces anti-gay organizations like the Fellowship of Christian athletes, and he “enjoys ministering” with anti-gay preacher Andrew Wommack.
Dungy continues to be quite possibly the most publicly anti-LGBT person in the recent history of the NFL.
Yet his employer, NBC, is silent on all of this. Dungy’s colleagues are silent on it. While they should ask themselves if Dungy’s support of a racist or sexist would also get their silence... they don’t seem to care.
And that’s one of the most frustrating aspects of this. No one thinks for a second that Dungy is getting fired. That doesn’t even seem like the right move.
But utter silence about his anti-gay actions and messages — past and present — is a slap in the face of every LGBT fan and player in and around the NFL.
This weekend, Jaguars and Chargers fans will listen to him every minute of their Wild Card game. And every time he talks, many LGBT fans will cringe.
At the expense of the LGBT community, Dungy — reportedly pulling in millions of dollars a year from NBC (depending on which source you ask) — is laughing at us all the way to the bank.