Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - There is a group of people in this country who love to build people up with an eye on knocking them down, and they all came looking for Tony Dungy earlier this week.
As far as I know the ex-coach and current NBC analyst never asked to be the moral compass of the NFL but the faith he often wears on his sleeve and an even demeanor in a sport filled with aggressive, often loud alpha-males made him particularly appealing to a cult that eats, sleeps and breathes political correctness.
Dungy, however, alienated his acolytes by straying too far away from the party line, insinuating that he would not have drafted St. Louis defensive end/linebacker Michael Sam, who is attempting to become the first openly gay player in the NFL by making the Rams.
In an interview with the Tampa Tribune Dungy said the potential media frenzy surrounding Sam would have been a deterrent for him.
"I wouldn't have (drafted) him," Dungy said. "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 (the distractions). It's not going to be totally smooth -- things will happen."
Ironically, Dungy's point was actually confirmed by this very controversy.
Criticism quickly mounted after Dungy's initial comments went public. The lemmings who looked to Dungy for guidance and support in other matters were appalled by his valid and legitimate opinion.
Interestingly Sam was far more tolerant than the intolerants blasting Dungy.
"Thank God he wasn't a St. Louis Rams coach," Sam said on Tuesday. "But I have great respect for Tony Dungy. Like everyone in America, everyone is entitled to their own opinions."
A strange narrative began to develop on Twitter in which supporters of gay rights used Sam's success at Missouri in college football's toughest conference, the SEC, to buttress their belief that the NFL as a whole was already showing its prejudice toward his lifestyle.
And Dungy's own "bigotry" only furthered that warped dogma.
Sure Sam was co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year but plenty of decorated college players weren't thought of as big-time NFL prospects.
Like Sam, Gino Toretta, the 1992 Heisman Trophy winner, was a seventh-round pick. Jason White, the 2003 Heisman winner, wasn't drafted at all. Heck, in this year's process Jackson Jeffcoat, who was the DPOY in the Big 12 as well as a consensus All-American and the Ted Hendricks Award winner, was not selected.
"Everything is faster (in the NFL)," Sam admitted. "And you want to make sure you are at a good weight and at good speed to compete at this level. It's not college anymore, that's child's play compared to this."
Those caught up in politics or ideology fail to realize that the world of professional sports is perhaps the only true meritocracy in our society, a place where color, sexual preference and any peccadillo you can think of is left at the door as long as you perform.
Dungy, however, only exacerbated his public relations problem by straddling the fence, refusing to own what is a valid and reasonable opinion nor completely acquiescing to his progressive critics by genuflecting at the altar of their established orthodoxy.
"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 released to several media outlets. "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."
If you want to take issue with Dungy, take aim at the hemming and hawing.
Everyone knows the 53rd man on any roster can't create distractions, no matter who they are. On the other hand, while any complication is no picnic for a star, that type of player is given a far longer rope and can afford to make life more difficult for their coaches.
That may not be fair but life rarely is.
By objective standards Sam is at best a mediocre NFL talent and a marginal prospect. And before you fire up the e-mails to call me a homophobe, please show me the highly-rated heterosexual DE prospect with the 47th best bench press at the combine, a pedestrian 4.91 40-time and a miserable 25 1/2 vertical leap.
That's not to say Sam's lack of pure athleticism is a career death sentence, though.
The NFL is littered with productive late-round draft choices and undrafted players who proved the doubters wrong.
Personally, I had a front-row seat for much of John Randle's career and he was passed over by every NFL team in 1990 when the draft was 12 rounds long. In case you are wondering the top two overall selections that year were Jeff George and Blair Thomas, two players who won't be joining Randle in Canton anytime soon.
The odds are certainly against Sam but scouts are often wrong and production is the only standard he will be judged on moving forward.
"My focus is on making this team," the Mizzou product said. "I don't really care what people come up and tell me. My job is to make this team, that's my number one priority."
As for Dungy, he's entitled to his opinion. The weight you put on it is your own problem.