St. Louis Rams defensive end Michael Sam shrugged off the controversy swirling around former Buccaneers and Colts coach Tony Dungy’s comments Tuesday after training camp in Earth City, Mo.
Dungy told the Tampa Tribune in an article published Monday he wouldn’t have drafted Sam, a former Missouri standout and the reigning SEC co-defensive player of the year, because he wouldn’t “want to deal with it all.”
Dungy, who now works as an analyst for NBC, said he believes the media attention surrounding Sam, who publicly announced in February that he was gay, would be a distraction.
“Thank God he wasn’t the St. Louis Rams coach,” Sam said with a laugh. “I have great respect for coach Dungy. Like everyone in America, everyone is entitled to their own opinions.”
When asked if he expected similar disapproving comments from time to time, Sam said, “It is what it is. What are you going to do about it?”
Earlier Tuesday, Dungy issued a statement aimed at clarifying his comments, which created a national media stir.
“I was asked whether I would have drafted Michael Sam and I answered that I would not have drafted him,” Dungy’s statement read, in part. “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.”
Dungy reiterated that he believes Sam deserves the opportunity to play in the NFL and that Sam’s sexual orientation shouldn’t be a factor in the evaluation process.
“I was not asked whether I would have a problem having Michael Sam on my team,” Dungy said. “I would not.”
Dungy added that he doesn’t believe Sam’s sexual orientation will be a distraction for the Rams’ staff or his teammates.
“I do, however, believe that the media attention that comes with it will be a distraction,” Dungy said. “Unfortunately we are all seeing this play out now, and I feel badly that my remarks played a role in the distraction.”
The full text of Dungy’s statement can be found at Pro Football Talk.
Meanwhile, Sam, who received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at last week’s ESPYs seemed ready to move on.
“I had a great time in LA with the Arthur Ashe Award, but that’s over,” Sam said. “I’m focusing on football now. … My focus is on making this team. I don’t really care what people come up and tell me. My job is to make this team. That’s my No. 1 priority.”
To that end, Sam had a training staff with him on trips to New York, Los Angeles and Kansas City. He said he shed 13 pounds since OTAs, hoping to become lighter on his feet and better able to contribute on special teams.
“I’m feeling great,” said Sam, who weighed 257 pounds for the start of training camp. “That’s just where I want to be speedwise, so I can run fast and make plays. I just want to be as fast as I can.”
Speed, he said, is the key in the NFL.
“Everything is faster,” Sam said. “You want to be sure you add good weight and that good speed to be at this level. It’s not college anymore. That’s child’s play compared to this.”