I’ve covered the March for Life in Washington, D.C., for years. It is a madhouse of right-wing gadflies, disinformation addicts, Qanon adherents, and, most disturbingly, class after class of teenage and tween-age children dragged there by teachers who abuse their authority in ways that would make Ron DeSantis smirk. (He only outlaws the speech of some teachers.)
This year’s march on January 20, however, has a first-time participant who is trumpeting a giddy excitement over the forthcoming festivities. His name is Tony Dungy, retired Hall of Fame coach, cohost of the top-rated NBC show Football in America, and someone venerated throughout the NFL world as a man of character. Well, Dungy is certainly taking his reputation for a test-drive, and it’s hardly the first time. Dungy has spent years as an anti-gay bigot, while the NFL and NBC barely blink. He speaks at conferences whose organizers are violently homophobic. He said publicly and proudly that he would not want gay football player Michael Sam on his team. He said over a decade ago that he disagreed with the “lifestyle” of Jason Collins, the first out active male gay player in the main four North American sports. This is a Dungy staple, calling being LGBT a “lifestyle,” even after people have said to him repeatedly how hurtful and outdated such a description is. He simply doesn’t care. (People should read the two-part series in Outsports about Dungy’s history of homophobia.)
The latest Dungy move where he sounded like a talk-radio caller—or Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito—was earlier this week when he took to Twitter to object to a Minnesota state representative explaining how a new law providing tampons in bathrooms in the public schools of the Twin Cities would include boys’ bathrooms. This is, of course, none of Dungy’s non-menstruating business. But he felt the need to sound off by writing in response to the hard-right-wing Daily Wire’s anger at people having periods by taking it to another level, writing,
That’s nothing. Some school districts are putting litter boxes in the school bathrooms for students that identify as cats. Very important to address student needs.
This is a widely debunked lie used by the far right to argue that LGBTQ kids, and especially trans kids, have been coddled and abused to the point where they don’t even identify as their own species. It’s a lie that Dungy happily touted. Only when countless people explained to Dungy that he was spreading violently harmful disinformation, or maybe after he received a call from NBC, did Dungy delete the tweet. He did so without apology or explanation. He did so with minimal courage.
This is a staggering indictment of the politics the NFL and the network’s partners allow and the kind that they condemn. When someone like, gee, I don’t know, Colin Kaepernick steps up and kneels down to end police violence and racial inequity, he becomes a pariah. Meanwhile, Dungy is held up as a deeply religious man and nearly a patron saint of the league. Dungy has used his devoutness as a cover for his anti-gay rhetoric and sharing platforms with unapologetic bigots. But what in the world is “religious” about bearing false witness against teachers and children with a lie that has had real-life repercussions? Every bomb threat leveled against children’s hospitals, every physical assault, bears the fingerprints of these lies. Dungy should feel shame. Instead, he is emboldened, ready to take the stage at a rally that’s been a blunt instrument for robbing people of their rights to privacy and the rights to their own bodies.
This side of Dungy, which he has exhibited publicly for years, confuses some fans. After all, this is the same Dungy who was a widely admired trailblazer as the first Black coach to win an NFL title. This is the same Dungy who had love and forgiveness in his heart for outcast NFL players Michael Vick and Ray Rice. Dogfighting and assaulting one’s partner, Dungy believed, do not disqualify a person for a second chance and an opportunity at redemption. And I agree that no one should be defined by their worst, most unforgivable moments. But what do you do when someone has over a decade of unforgivable moments? What do you do when someone held up as the definition of “character” is so relentless with these ideas? If Dungy wants a show on The Daily Wire, more power to him. But his being center stage on the most watched program in the country makes NBC and the NFL complicit in his disinformation and political posturing. Like Dungy, neither NBC nor the NFL has commented about his latest eruption. But their silence speaks volumes. It’s a silence that’s almost as loud as Dungy’s hateful blather, almost as loud as the thousands of people descending upon Washington—some mandatorily—to celebrate a fascistic, discredited Supreme Court and the loss of our rights. It’s shameful. And we should not be afraid to say so.