For many football fans (including this one) coach Tony Dungy is a legend. Even though his career is marred by beating my beloved Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI as head coach for the Indianapolis Colts, I am one of millions who tune into NBC to hear his insights on games. He was the first African-American to win the Super Bowl as head coach and coached for 13 seasons. Now, however, this Hall of Fame inductee is a marked man after a flash mob has formed to force his termination. Why? Because Dungy is a religious conservative who has publicly shared his views against abortion and homosexuality, including a speech at the March for Life this week.
Even before he spoke at the rally, advocates called for Dungy to be fired. He was undeterred. He spoke at the rally and, to the outrage of some, referenced the recent emergency involving Damar Hamlin.
“An unbelievable thing happened that night. A professional football game with millions of dollars of ticket money and advertising money on the line, that game was canceled. Why? Because a life was at stake, and people wanted to see that life saved. Even people who are not necessarily religious got together and called on God… that’s exactly why we’re here today. Because every day in this country, innocent lives are at stake. The only difference is they don’t belong to a famous athlete and they’re not seen on national TV. But those lives are still important to God in God’s eyes.”
That triggered a round of outrage that Dungy would refer to the incident, including openly racist comments from the left. For example, Ameshia Cross a political analyst with SiriusXM tweeted: “This is vile, disrespectful to Damar Hamlin/ his family and quite frankly wildly out of order. @TonyDungy crossed the line repeatedly, but this might be the grossest attempt at flying into the culture wars. I’ll give it to the Repubs they always find a Black man to carry the water.”
There was no call for Cross to be fired, of course, despite using Dungy’s race against him. Whenever a black individual espouses opposing views, it is increasingly common for liberal commentators and writers to attack them for their race. We have seen such attacks in the New York Times, MSNBC, and other outlets without any response from their parent companies.
Moreover, there is a huge pro-life movement in the black community. While a 2020 poll showed growing support among African Americans for abortion, it was still less than a majority of those polled. Indeed, the New York Times recently wrote that “While Black voters remain overwhelmingly allied with the Democratic Party, some, especially older churchgoers, have a conservative streak when it comes to social issues like abortion.” The vast majority of black Americans support limits on abortion.
However, Dungy had the temerity to speak publicly about his faith and his pro-life values.
The response was fast and furious. Former MSNBC host Keith Olbermann tweeted “Dear @nbcsports – if you have any remaining concern for your operational reputation, fire Tony Dungy now. He is using you.” At least Olbermann is an equal opportunity cancel campaigner. He previously called for the entire Supreme Court to be disbanded because he disagreed with their abortion ruling.
Dungy has also been criticized for his faith-based opposition to homosexuality. Recently, he tweeted out that “some school districts are putting litter boxes in the school bathrooms for the students who identify as cats.” While he deleted that tweet, it was dumb and offensive.
Dungy has also said that he would not want Michael Sam on his team “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.” That is simply wrong. We have to deal with “it” when the “it” is discrimination against players for their sexual orientation.
So, I happen to disagree with some of Dungy’s past statements. Yet, those statements have been made as an individual without tying them to NBC. Many coaches and commentators on the left have made controversial comments without the mob forming against them. There is, however, an absolute intolerance for those who hold religious or political views that they oppose. Conservative coaches just remain silent rather than openly support causes as do their liberal colleagues.
It is admittedly a difficult line to draw in some cases. When do personal views become so racist or discriminatory to justify a firing? If a commentator is out spewing hate, they can damage a corporate image or brand. They could become (as Dungy said about Sam) a distraction. However, there is also room for controversy outside of the game in the expression of unpopular views. Dungy shares deep-seated faith-based objections to abortion and to homosexuality with many Americans.
However, tolerance is hardly a popular value in an age of rage. The left often treats any controversial comments on the right has hate speech and therefore terminal.
Previously, there was a campaign to fire University of Michigan football head coach Jim Harbaugh because he stated publicly that he is pro-life. Liberals were apoplectic when he said “I believe in having the courage to let the unborn be born.” That is all that it took. His distinguished career as a quarterback (including his sting with the Bears), a NFL coach, and college coach became immaterial. He said that he was pro-life. Of course, if he spoke out for pro-choice causes, he would be celebrated rather than condemned.
The same mob formed around Washington Commanders defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio after he expressed concerns over the bias in the media coverage of the January 6th riot. After he asked why the media was not looking with the same intensity at violent protests on the left, he was relentlessly attacked until he withdrew his comment.
It was not the deleted cat box tweet that has led to the campaign to fire Dungy. He failed to yield to the demands of the left that he either support abortion or remain silent. Critics know that the NFL and NBC are notoriously fearful of such campaigns.
In the end, this is not about litter boxes or even pro-life views. It is about free speech. While the First Amendment protects us against the “Big Brother” dangers of government censorship and speech controls, free speech can be lost to a host of “Little Brothers” in the private sector.
Dungy knows football. He is not making the calls on the Pro Bowl for its pro-life plays. He will back on the air when the Chiefs face the Jaguars. The closest he will get to religion is a possible Hail Mary play and that is fine with most of us.