Dungy Needs To Be Heard On This Issue

By Off the BASN Sports Wire
Updated: November 18, 2004

Tony Dungy

INDIANAPOLIS — By now, most of us can agree that ABC’s “Monday Night Football” opening was lasciviously over-the-top, a crass effort at cross-promotion and titillation. It wasn’t the worst thing we’ve ever seen on TV, but it was clearly inappropriate given the audience and the time slot.

The question now, the uncomfortable question raised Wednesday by Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, is: Was the MNF opening featuring a scantily clad Nicollette Sheridan jumping into the arms of Terrell Owens racist?

“I thought it was racially insensitive,” Dungy said after Wednesday’s practice. “It hit at a lot of stereotypes towards athletes, the black athlete in particular. It was very insensitive on the heels of the Kobe Bryant situation, and I just don’t know that the Eagles (public relations) people or the NFL would have let it go if it had been another player, coach or owner.”

Asked what stereotypes it perpetuated, Dungy stopped and thought.

“Athletes as sexual predators,” he said. “That that’s more important than what’s going on on the field. That a guy could be in uniform and not really be thinking about the game, being concerned with something like that. It was a terrible message to send.

“Any player, I would have been outraged, but the fact it was a black player, me, as an African-American man, I was hurt even more.”

As a rule, Dungy doesn’t do outrage real persuasively. His demeanor runs the gamut from A to B. On this issue, though, you could feel the heat. He was angry on many levels, for many reasons.

He is angry for the reason many viewers were angry — or, at the very least, shocked. While some of us find TV’s violence more destructive than sexuality, it’s still hard to argue that ABC’s opening was age- and time-appropriate.

In many ways, this was worse than Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction, because this was a judgment malfunction. How many layers of officialdom did this pass through on the way to reaching the air?

Dungy mentioned that he has a 12-year-old son who finishes his homework in front of the TV right about that time. As an owner and operator of two pre-teens who pretend to do their homework in front of the TV, I can relate.

“I don’t want them to see what they saw,” Dungy said. “I don’t want to tell them they have to wait until 9:08 before it’s safe to watch.”

(By the way, how about the hypocrisy of the NFL, which chimed in later to denounce the skit. Can you say hypocrisy? Talk about selling sex. Cheerleaders. Erectile dysfunction medications. And, lest we forget, the Coors Light Twins. When the NFL chides ABC for being too sexual, it’s like Anna Nicole Smith sounding the call for sobriety.)

Dungy is angry as a long-time employee of the NFL who wants people to know the league isn’t a long-running “Playmakers” episode.

The week before the Colts’ Monday night appearance against the Minnesota Vikings, ABC asked some of Dungy’s players to do different kinds of skits, though he wouldn’t be specific. None of them were nearly as racy as the one involving Owens, but the Colts declined.

“I don’t think we should have anything that suggestive with our players in uniform hyping up trashy shows,” Dungy said. “If that’s what we have to do to get ratings, I’d rather not get them. I know ratings pay our salary, but . . . I’d take a pay cut if it means we don’t have to do that.”

How mad is Dungy? If he had his way, the Colts wouldn’t appear again on “Monday Night Football.” Not until ABC cleans up its act.

It’s on the issue of race, though, that Dungy takes things to another level.

Until now, it hadn’t occurred to a lot of us there might be a racial component to this. But when a smart and respected African-American man like Dungy talks about racism, it tells me we all need to take a second look.

At the issue.

Not Nicollette Sheridan.

Was it racist?

At the very least, did it have a racially inflammatory edge?

In my eyes, no.

In my eyes, they could have been featuring the New England Patriots the week they decided to promote that show, and used Tom Brady as Sheridan’s foil.

Dungy’s response to that assertion was essentially this: ABC wouldn’t have thought to portray a white player, coach or owner in that fashion.

“Well, we played last week, and they didn’t ask Peyton Manning to do it,” he said.

At the very least, I can understand how a person, and especially an African-American, can look at that opening and see something that feeds into the worst of all stereotypes.

Dungy is not a man who tosses around racial rhetoric in a casual manner.

When he speaks, especially with this kind of passion, we’re well-served to listen.