Hall-of-fame NFL coach Tony Dungy is defending recent comments he made at a press conference unveiling an initiative to promote fatherhood, insisting that he is “serving the Lord.”
The retired former coach of the Indianapolis Colts appeared at a press conference Monday, where Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 7065 into law.
The bill, which received the unanimous support of lawmakers in both chambers of the Florida legislature, will allocate $70 million towards initiatives designed to assist and encourage fathers to take an active role in the upbringing of their children. Throughout the press conference, speakers repeatedly spoke about the long-term consequences of growing up without a father.
In his remarks, the 66-year-old Dungy recalled his visit to a prison ministry led by Pastor Abe Brown. While he expected “to see grizzled, hard, tough, older guys,” Dungy instead encountered “19 and 20 and 21-year-old kids.”
“I remember driving home from that trip and asking Rev. Brown, ‘How do those young boys get here?’ And he told me, ‘It’s not socioeconomic, it’s not racial, it’s not education, it’s none of that. Ninety-five percent of these boys did not grow up with their dad,’” he added.
Dungy said that his visit to Brown’s prison ministry motivated him to create the organization All Pro Dad. The charity works to “provide guidance and practical tips in raising your kids in a life-giving way.”
Mediaite contributor Juwan Holmes criticized Dungy’s remarks, contending on Twitter Monday that Dungy “lives in a fantasy land with the rest of the Trump/DeSantis fanboys." Holmes dismissed the idea that 95% of those in prison grew up without a father as a “myth.”
Lawyer Exavier Pope, who has written for Forbes, cited Dungy’s comments as proof of his “racist apologist, respectability politics, and The Black friend showmanship.”
In a tweet Wednesday, Dungy responded by sharing comments made by former President Barack Obama in 2008 that made essentially the same point about the importance of fatherhood.
“2 days ago I spoke on behalf of a Florida bill that supports dads & families and it offended some people," Dungy wrote. "14 yrs ago Pres Obama said the same things almost verbatim. I’m assuming people were outraged at him too.”
In a 2008 Father's Day address while on the presidential campaign trail, the then-Illinois senator stated that "children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and 20 times more likely to end up in prison.”
Additionally, Obama proclaimed that “they are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.”
Dungy vowed that the backlash surrounding his speech at Monday’s press conference would not deter him.
“I am serving the Lord so I’ll keep supporting dads and families," he assured.
Dungy critics also characterized him as "anti-LGBT" because he appeared at a press conference alongside DeSantis. The governor has come under fire from the LGBT community for signing a law last month that bans teachers, school officials and third parties from teaching sexual orientation and gender identity to public school students in kindergarten through third grade.
The Twitter account for the liberal Palmer Report used the “anti-LGBT” label when tweeting about a previous statement Dungy made about openly gay NFL player Michael Sam.
“Tony Dungy revealed his true self a few years ago when he said he wouldn’t want an openly gay player on his team. So of course he’s appearing alongside anti-LGBT extremist Ron DeSantis," the tweet reads. "When people tell you who they are, believe them the first time.”
In 2014, as Sam made national headlines as the first openly gay football player drafted by the NFL, Dungy was asked if he would draft Sam if he still served as a coach in the NFL. Dungy shared his opinion that “drafting him would bring too much distraction to the team."
Dungy later clarified his earlier remarks, which he defended as consistent with his “philosophy of drafting, a philosophy that was developed over the years, which was to minimize distractions for my teams.”
“I do not believe Michael’s sexual orientation will be a distraction to his teammates or his organization,” Dungy said. The St. Louis Rams had drafted Sam in seventh round of the 2014 draft.
Sam was cut by the Rams that same season and signed to the Dallas Cowboys practice squad. The Cowboys cut Sam that October. He retired from football in 2015.
Over the years, Dungy has spoken publicly about his Christian faith. During a speech at the Super Bowl 50 breakfast in 2016, he assured the crowd that “If you follow the lord, you’re going to be OK.”
As he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame later that year, Dungy shared the significance of his mother’s favorite Bible verse, Matthew 16:26, which reads, “What would it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul.”
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org