National Public Radio had an interesting interview a few days ago regarding the announcement of former Indianapolis Colts coach and Super Bowl champion Tony Dungy's invitation to President Obama's White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Yes, the invitation was officially announced (nice work Dan Gilgoff), and yes, Dungy declined that invitation for the stated reason of the time constraints of a retired NFL coach.
My local newspaper The Indianapolis Star hasn't provided much coverage in print that I've noticed about either the announcement or the rejection, which is curious because even after Dungy retired from the Colts, the newspaper has not stopped covering Dungy's extensive work outside of football. Part of that lack of coverage is I'm sure due to the unfortunate lack of resources to cover stories such as these, although religion reporter Robert King has provided solid coverage on his blog Thou Shalt Blog.
The withdrawal is interesting, because as the above NPR segment discusses, many liberal groups were not thrilled with the idea of Dungy participating on the counsel because of Dungy's support of an amendment to Indiana's constitution that would have mandated that marriage be exclusive to heterosexual relationships.
Here's is King's reporting and analysis on the invitation:
Dungy hasn't yet accepted the invitation and it isn't clear whether the position is anything more than an honorary post. But already the Americans United for Separation of Church and State is expressing "disappointment" with Obama's selection of Dungy.
In its statement, Americans United said Dungy has "well-known ties with intolerant Religious Right groups." I presume that they weren't referring to the Indianapolis Colts.
Specifically, the statement referenced Dungy's 2007 appearance, above left, at a fundraising dinner for the Indiana Family Institute, which it describes as a "James Dobson-affiliated group that opposes gay rights, reproductive rights and separation of church and state."
Both Dungy and the Indiana Family Institute probably consider it a badge of honor to be singled out by Americans United and its executive director, Barry Lynn, who has raised more money for conservative groups like IFI than Dungy ever will -- merely by being a face those groups can point to as someone who threatens to sterilize the civic landscape of any and all religious entanglements.
It will be interesting to see if Dungy accepts the Obama invitation, given the president's positions on abortion and gay rights -- which are in direct opposition to Dungy's.
King rightly notes that the group's opposition to each other provides a nice fundraising and profile-raising opportunity for both sides. Dungy's choice of sides just provides the other with ammunition to fire. He also anticipates the possibility fairly early that Dungy's involvement on the council was not a done-deal.
This brings the question of why Dungy declined the Obama invitation. When have scheduling conflicts even genuinely been the reason for someone declining a request or an offer for the President? My guess is not often and that there were other reasons the invite was rejected. Was Dungy concerned about serving on the panel that included individuals that are on the opposite side from him on the gay marriage issue, or was it a concern that his presence would draw unnecessary attention away from the group's mission? Or did members of the panel have similar concerns about Dungy? Was the position too "honorary" and not enough substance?
None of these questions are easy to answer, but as the NPR segment I noted above shows, the group's opposing Dungy's position are not entirely consistent because even Obama's official position on gay marriage is not all that far from Dungy's substantive position in the sense that Obama does not support gay marriage. He supports civil unions.
I can concede that Obama has never campaigned for Illinois to amendment its state constitution to forbid gay marriage from ever becoming law in the state, but in terms of the substance one has to wonder why groups opposing Dungy's invitation don't put more pressure on Obama regarding the substantive legal differences between civil unions and gay marriage. Also, why oppose what appears to be an offer to serve on an honorary panel, when the President of the United States isn't supporting your position?
From a political point of view, Dungy's position on gay marriage is fairly limited to his opposition to gay marriage. His campaigning in Indiana is what sets him off and draws the attention. I doubt he has a position on civil unions. But in the sense that Dungy believes that marriage should be exclusively reserved for heterosexuals unions, Dungy and Obama are not all that far apart on this issue legally.