(SportsNetwork.com) - Former NFL head coach and current television analyst Tony Dungy tried to clarify comments he made concerning St. Louis Rams draft pick Michael Sam, the first openly gay player in the league.
Dungy, in an interview with the Tampa Tribune published earlier this week, said he would not have drafted Sam. Criticism poured in after Dungy was quoted as saying he "wouldn't want to deal with all of it," meaning the potential media frenzy surrounding Sam.
On Tuesday, in a statement released to media outlets that included ProFootballTalk.com, Dungy attempted to clear up any misconceptions.
"I was asked whether I would have drafted Michael Sam and I answered that I would not have drafted him," Dungy said in the statement. "I gave my honest answer, which is that I felt drafting him would bring much distraction to the team. At the time of my interview, the Oprah Winfrey reality show that was going to chronicle Michael's first season had been announced.
"I was not asked whether or not Michael Sam deserves an opportunity to play in the NFL. He absolutely does.
"I was not asked whether his sexual orientation should play a part in the evaluation process. It should not.
"I was not asked whether I would have a problem having Michael Sam on my team. I would not.
"I have been asked all of those questions several times in the last three months and have always answered them the same way -- by saying that playing in the NFL is, and should be, about merit.
"The best players make the team, and everyone should get the opportunity to prove whether they're good enough to play. That's my opinion as a coach. But those were not the questions I was asked.
"What I was asked about was my philosophy of drafting, a philosophy that was developed over the years, which was to minimize distractions for my teams.
"I do not believe Michael's sexual orientation will be a distraction to his teammates or his organization.
"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.
"I wish Michael Sam nothing but the best in his quest to become a star in the NFL and I am confident he will get the opportunity to show what he can do on the field.
"My sincere hope is that we will be able to focus on his play and not on his sexual orientation."
Sam, a defensive end from Missouri, was selected by the Rams in the seventh round of the 2014 draft.