Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tony Dungy and Dog Whistle Politics

Tony Dungy, a highly intelligent ex-football coach who is well-respected and has a problem with homosexuals and their "lifestyle", gave an interview recently in which he said he wouldn't draft Michael Sam (ex-Missouri football player, SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and openly homosexual) because it would be a "distraction".

A definition: Dog-whistle politics is political messaging employing coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has an additional, different or more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup. The phrase is only used as a pejorative, because of the inherently deceptive nature of the practice and because the dog-whistle messages are frequently themselves distasteful, for example by empathizing with racist or revolutionary attitudes. It is an analogy to a dog whistle, whose high-frequency whistle is heard by dogs, but is inaudible to humans.

Tony Dungy, who is African-American, was a college quarterback at Minnesota. He never had a chance to play quarterback in the NFL, because black athletes were only considered "effective" in certain positions at the time (1976). Having a black quarterback would have been a huge distraction--all the media coverage, all the questions.

Do you know why it took so long for the color barrier to be broken in some American team sports? Well, based on what club owners said at the time, it was because drafting a Negro player would be too much of a "distraction".

Renting houses to African-American families in all-white neighborhoods? Sorry, it's not you, it's just that you would be a distraction in all-white neighborhood. Nothing personal, mind you.

"Distraction" is a magic word. It means not being fair because fair would be too inconvenient. It's a dog whistle.

Michael Sam's prospects as an NFL player can be challenged because his speed may not be considered adequate (although if you look at this list of former SEC Defensive Players of the Year, it's difficult to imagine that he couldn't contribute to a team), but a "distraction"?

That's just sad.

Even better, Tony Dungy was the leader of the Michael Vick Redemption Tour after Vick was released from prison. Vick was convicted of participating in an interstate dogfighting ring (the details were absolutely brutal). Michael Vick wasn't a distraction?

I will say it's encouraging that Dungy is getting so much flack over his comments. That's a start.

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