*Background: On July 21, 2014, I received a phone call from a female U.S. military fighter pilot. She happens to be gay. She is not “out”, despite the fact that the odious “don’t ask don’t tell” policy no longer burdens the American armed forces and has been justly abolished. She knows well that homophobia is still rampant in the ranks, which is why the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) currently has 863 LGBTQ clients among our current number of over 38,000 U.S. military members and veterans, 96% of whom are practicing Christians themselves. She related that she had just experienced a loud conversation in her squadron area where a number of her fellow pilots were robustly cheering on Tony Dungy’s comments about how he would never have drafted Michael Sam for a team for which he was head coach and why. Michael Sam is the NFL’s first openly gay player. She told me that her fellow pilots were effusively praising Dungy’s “honesty” etc. She was terribly distraught. She asked me what I thought about it. This Op-Ed is my response to her.
A maelstrom of extremism is battering the United States of America, weakening and eroding the fundamental values of tolerance and inclusion embodied by our beautiful Constitution. The name of this extremist threat? Fundamentalist Christianity or “Dominionism.” This disturbing storm trend has entailed the infiltration of all fields of social life in U.S. schools, military bases, and a plethora of other key fora. Indeed, the three branches of civilian government have become bloody battlegrounds for the advancement of a hateful and bigoted agenda of American Christian extremist exceptionalism and supremacy. Big-box retailers, chicken sandwich purveyors, school boards and school districts, police departments, fire departments, sewage workers, legislatures, celebrities, and sports figures have served no small role as pawns, masterminds, and auxiliaries in this seditious modern-day brutal Crusade. A case in point is former Super Bowl-winning NFL head coach, NBC commentator, and unabashed homophobe, Tony Dungy.
Dungy showed his true colors as a classic bigot when he suggested that, were he still a head NFL coach, he would have avoided drafting Michael Sam, the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL. In the interview, Dungy, now a well-known national sports commentator, opined on Sam: “I wouldn’t have taken him. It’s not going to be totally smooth … things will happen.”
The cruel irony and almost unbearable hypocrisy of the comment is obvious to those who’ve followed Dungy’s career, which was anything but “totally smooth.” Dungy was the first African-American coach to win the Super Bowl, and had personally dealt with the sometimes subtle, sometimes rabid racist impediments to his own career. “Things” happened, the dogs tore into the red meat, yet Dungy himself persevered – and in so doing, paved the way for a more prominent role for black coaches within a formerly hyper-insular, white-dominated fraternity of NFL coaching.
Political pundit and sports commentator Keith Olbermann perfectly punctured Dungy’s mendacious malevolence with characteristic astuteness: “‘I wouldn’t want to deal with it, things will happen,’ is remarkably similar to what football coaches and owners said until 1946 about players who looked like Tony Dungy. And it’s remarkably similar to what NFL owners said until 1989 about guys who wanted to become NFL head coaches who look like Tony Dungy.”
“Things” tend to happen when people fight for access to places from which they were previously, unjustly barred – yet now this former poster child for equal access is placing more barricades on the road to freedom. One can only wonder if Dungy would have had similar “advice” in relation to the desegregation of public schools and the armed forces! Perhaps he would have the nerve to protest the “distraction” to learning represented by integrated classrooms and military service branches? Oh how Jackie Robinson must be rolling over in his grave.
Hey you military fighter pilots getting all fired up and applauding Tony Dungy’s “honesty,” would you like to hear what Tony Dungy REALLY “being honest” would have sounded like? Ignorant beyond belief though it is, try the following: I, Tony Dungy, am a fundamentalist, evangelical Christian. As such, it is my genuine religious belief that Michael Sam, like all other homosexuals, has personally CHOSEN to be gay because no one is born gay. My fundamentalist Christian beliefs inform me that making such a choice to be gay is a grave sin against the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This ‘gay choice sin’ can be ‘corrected’ only through special, intense, Christian-based reparative therapy and only by those willing to so submit. Michael Sam has not submitted to this ‘gay corrective reparative therapy‘. Michael Sam is a sinner because he has chosen to be gay and the NFL needs no more sinners.
Now THAT would have been Dungy’s true honesty here. As much as it would have nauseated me, I would have at least respected him for publicly sticking to his twisted religious beliefs of bigotry and having the guts to have been out in the open about it. Instead, we have Dungy’s pathetic lies, anemic excuses and transparent hypocrisy. You can’t walk this travesty back, Tony. You can’t put squeezed-out toothpaste back into the tube there, Coach.
Betraying their inimical attitude towards social progress, certain media outlets quickly leapt to Dungy’s defense. Cowardly kowtowing to the prevalent anti-gay prejudice lying extant across the sports world, these outlets reported Dungy’s inflammatory words as either the “opinion” of a “devout Christian” or an unfortunate gaffe. Thus, by spinning Dungy’s words as a legitimate “opinion” from a professional career sportsman who is simply participating in a “spirited debate” rather than bigotry of the most inhumane, and prejudiced sort, hateful intolerance becomes cravenly normalized. These media outlets have, in effect, given a pass to what amounts to an open declaration of war on equal treatment for LGBTQ professional athletes. There is no other way to say it, folks.
Dungy’s expressions of disdain for gay athletes comes from a horrific strain of American religiosity that represents an abyss of ill-will towards “the other”, including but not limited to religious, sex, gender, cultural, and (quite often) ethnic and racial minorities. This wretched abyss has unleashed the towering obstacles of Old School discrimination and prejudice transgressing the Constitutional civil rights of our fellow Americans. Further, torrents of death and hatred have emanated from this conflagration of “faith-based” odium in the form of truly hateful, homophobic atrocities, anti-abortion terrorism, anti-Semitism, free-range Islamophobia, monstrous misogyny and directly related domestic violence.
In a manner similar to the “good Germans” of the 30’s and 40’s who greeted Hitler’s meteoric rise with placid complacency, sealing the doomed fate of tens of millions of human beings all over the world, a noxious cloud of denial and fear regarding an insidious and growing domestic extremist threat has paralyzed many of us. Hiding behind the dangerously disingenuous watchwords of “family values”, “home-schooling” and “tradition,” a spectrum of figures ranging from the soft-spoken to the obnoxiously bloviating are waging a relentless campaign against secular laws and trends otherwise designed to ensure equal rights for all Americans regardless of their faith, or no faith, traditions. Meanwhile, the U.S media has been pitifully remiss in sounding the clarion call alarm regarding this festering, open wound on the American body politic, allowing this sick sectarian infection of fundamentalist Christian fascism to appear “mainstream” and metastasize. Tony Dungy’s words regarding Michael Sam’s ‘drafting shouldn’t simply be interpreted as a feigned aversion to “controversy,” but as a blatant threat and a “dog whistle” for despicable anti-gay prejudice and universal homophobic hatred all of which emanates from the Mother Ship of unbridled dominionist Christian extremism basking and thriving in its protective camouflage of American callous indifference.
Americans would do well to resoundingly reject Dungy’s malicious threats, incitements and, especially, his despicable hypocrisy.
They would do even better to comprehend where it comes from.