Dungy's gay-marriage comments draw support, criticism

Updated: March 22, 2007, 6:33 PM ET
Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- Tony Dungy is a deeply religious man who puts his faith first in his life, even above family and football. So his support of a proposed gay-marriage ban likely surprised few.

What was surprising is the Indianapolis Colts' quiet coach shared his position publicly, sparking discussion about the impact of the Super Bowl winner's comments.

Dungy caused a stir Tuesday when he accepted the "Friend of Family" award from the conservative Indiana Family Institute.

The coach told the audience he supported the group's efforts to amend the Indiana constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

"I appreciate the stance they're taking, and I embrace that stance," Dungy told the crowd of about 700 people.

Dungy said his comments should not be considered gay bashing.

"We're not trying to downgrade anyone else. But we're trying to promote the family -- family values the Lord's way," Dungy said.

Colts president Bill Polian was at NFL meetings in Phoenix on Thursday and was unavailable for comment.

"Coach Dungy's feelings on the importance of marriage and family are well known to the overwhelming majority of American sports fans," said Myra Borshoff Cook, a spokeswoman for Colts owner Jim Irsay. "He, of course, is free to speak to any group he wishes. The club does not take positions in political issues in which it is not directly involved."

Supporters of the proposed ban hailed the endorsement.

"That was sort of a double for us," said Curt Smith, president of the institute, which is associated with but independent of James Dobson's "Focus on the Family" group.

Smith said he was unaware Dungy, who received the award because of his pro-family ethic, not for his views on public policy, would address the issue.

The resolution's sponsor, Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Monticello, said Dungy's endorsement made the proposal more credible.

"I certainly appreciate him being able to step forward and speak out strongly in his beliefs," Hershman said. "I don't think that anybody should criticize him for exercising his First Amendment right to speak as a private citizen in support of some deeply held beliefs."

Some in the gay community disagreed.

Bil Browning, who runs bilerico.com, a blog that focuses on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues, wrote: "When the head coach publicly states that part of the Colts fan base should be second-class citizens, you can't expect those same fans to support the team."

Dan Funk, executive director of the Interfaith Coalition on Non-Discrimination, a network of 21 congregations, invited Dungy to meet with members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities.

"All types of families from across Indiana are Colts fans," he said. "We would like coach Dungy to meet with our families so he can better understand the negative impact (the resolution) will have on countless Hoosier families."

Dungy is not the first public figure to draw fire for anti-gay comments.

Former NBA star Tim Hardaway apologized twice after responding to a question about his reaction to a gay teammate by saying "I hate gay people." Actor Isaiah Washington, of the hit television show "Grey's Anatomy," sought counseling after using a gay slur when he referred to another cast member. Author-columnist Ann Coulter was chastised for repeating the slur when referring to Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards during a speech to a conservative group.

The NFL sought to distance itself from the matter.

"Coach Dungy is speaking for himself and expressing his views, which he is fully entitled to do," league officials said in a statement. "No doubt there are people in our league that have a different view. We respect the right of employees to have and express their views and don't regulate the political or religious views of team or league employees."

David Morton, principal of the Indianapolis-based sports marketing group Sunrise Sports Group, doesn't believe Dungy will suffer any lasting backlash from his comments.

"Tony's position on this or any other political issue should be as one person's opinion and one person's opinion only," Morton said. "It's not as Tony Dungy, head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. It's not the Indianapolis Colts, because I doubt if he asked Bill Polian or (Colts owner) Jim Irsay or anyone else what they thought.

"He's never tried to take advantage of his position on the pulpit," Morton said. "He spoke from the heart, and honestly, and I don't think you can ask anyone to do anything else."

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Associated Press writers Ken Kusmer and Deanna Martin contributed to this story.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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