Dear Coach Dungy,
My name is Anthony Nicodemo, and I am a high-school basketball coach who happens to be gay. After living in the closet for 35 years, a year ago I opted to be myself, and life has been awesome ever since.
Yesterday I came across your comments regarding Michael Sam and how you would not have drafted him because you "wouldn't want to deal with all of it."
Now, as a coach, I am in a different stratosphere when it comes to success. I have coached high school and college for 18 years, but I like to think that I have positively affected many of my student-athletes' lives.
Why would you not want your players to be themselves? If you had a gay player on your team (and I am sure that at some point you have), wouldn't you want him to be in the best physical and mental state?
I can tell immediately if one of my players is not mentally "right." Be it a fight with his girlfriend or problems at home, many times I can pick up on it quickly. If it is a practice day, one player's poor attitude can cause the entire session to be lackluster. If it happens to be a game day, the outcome can be worse.
Imagine the player who is forced to live two lives, talking with his teammates about women and how much he enjoys them, but each night going home knowing that his life is a lie. Having lived that life, I know how draining it can be. As a teacher, I am not in the spotlight. A professional athlete is another story. The charade has to be exhausting, yet we would expect him to perform on the field or court just like everyone else.
I would love nothing more than for each player to enter the gym with a clear mind and focus on the task at hand. My team would flourish, and the benefits would be fruitful. Every athlete I have spoken with has had more success in their sport after being able to be themselves. All have been embraced by their team.
As a coach, I always consider myself an educator and someone who is preparing my players for adulthood. I understand that being a professional carries very different responsibilities. But you are still a role model. Somewhere in America yesterday a young, closeted gay athlete read your comments and decided to stay in the closet. His team suffered for it.
When school opens, he will head to the field and perform nowhere near his potential. His secret will consume him and always be in the back of his mind. He will go home at night and question who he really is. Hopefully he is strong enough to survive until he is ready to reveal his true self. In many cases the opportunity never comes.
Whether I am coaching high school or college or in the pros, I hope my players can always be themselves. The environment will be healthy, and this will lead to success on the court.
Hopefully most coaches feel the same and would be happy to "deal with all of it."
Head Boy's Basketball Coach
Saunders High School