NEW YORK – NFL television analyst and former coach Tony Dungy backed off Tuesday from comments he “wouldn’t want to deal with” the diversions arising from drafting Michael Sam, who is hoping to become the league’s first openly gay player, saying he was referring to media attention surrounding such a move.
Dungy, who was head coach of the Indianapolis Colts when they won the Super Bowl in 2007 and also coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, aroused criticism over the remarks about the rookie defensive end that were published in the Tampa Bay Tribune on Sunday.
“I wouldn’t have taken him,” Dungy told the paper. “Not because I don’t believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn’t want to deal with all of it.”
“It’s not going to be totally smooth . . . things will happen,” he added.
In a statement on the NBC sports website on Tuesday seeking to clarify his remarks, Dungy said the increased media attention, not Sam’s sexual orientation, would be a distraction for his teammates and team management.
“I was not asked whether I would have a problem having Michael Sam on my team. I would not,” the statement said.
“I do, however, believe that the media attention that comes with it will be a distraction. Unfortunately we are all seeing this play out now, and I feel badly that my remarks played a role in the distraction,” he wrote.
Sam ready to begin
St. Louis — Now it starts to get intense for Michael Sam and the rest of the St. Louis Rams rookies.
The first openly gay player drafted in the NFL is enthusiastic about the challenge. Twice on Tuesday, he mentioned how enjoyable it was being back on the field and trading wisecracks with teammates.
“I’m so excited to be back with the guys,” Sam said. “Football’s fun.”
Sam hopes there will be less attention about his sexual orientation, but added his focus has to be on making the team. He said he’s in the best shape of his life, dropping 6 kg in the month since the last OTA workout, weighing in at 117 kg.
“Feeling great,” he said. “It’s just where I want to be speed-wise, so I can run fast and make plays. I want to be as fast as I can.”
Sam declined to offer specifics about his 40-yard dash time, adding “I’m not worried about the combine.”
Just as they did after the draft and during OTAs, teammates didn’t seem to care that Sam was gay. Offensive lineman Demetrius Rhaney, taken the pick after the Rams created a stir by selecting Sam, had only compliments.
“He’s a football player, he’s not a bother,” Rhaney said. “He’s laid-back, funny, jokes a lot. Pretty good.”
Quarterback Garrett Gilbert, drafted in the sixth round out of Southern Methodist, said there was plenty on his plate without worrying about Sam. Gilbert said this will be the seventh offense he’s had to learn in eight seasons counting high school and college.
“When Mike got drafted he became part of our team, and that’s what he is,” Gilbert said. “We’re both here competing, our jobs aren’t guaranteed.
“He as well as the other guys in our rookie class are members of this family.”
Coach Jeff Fisher will address the media for the first time on Friday after the first full-squad workout.