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Tony Dungy's anti-LGBTQ history gets renewed attention after controversial tweet

In a deleted tweet for which he has apologized, the Pro Football Hall of Famer spread a transphobic myth about schools' putting litter boxes in bathrooms.
Tony Dungy of NBC Sports during an NFL game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 8, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif.
Tony Dungy of NBC Sports during a game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Buffalo Bills in Inglewood, Calif., on Sept. 8.Icon Sportswire via Getty Images file

Pro Football Hall of Famer and NBC Sports analyst Tony Dungy is facing renewed criticism for his history of anti-LGBTQ statements after he tweeted an anti-transgender conspiracy theory last week.

Dungy shared a debunked myth to his nearly 950,000 followers that U.S. schools are providing litter boxes for students who identify as cats. His tweet was in response to an article regarding a Mississippi state bill that would mandate menstrual products in boys bathrooms.

“That’s nothing,” the former Indianapolis Colts head coach wrote in the since-deleted tweet. “Some school districts are putting litter boxes in the school bathrooms for students who identify as cats. Very important to address every student’s needs.”

Following widespread online criticism, Dungy apologized on Twitter later, writing: “I saw a tweet and I responded to it in the wrong way. As a Christian I should speak in love and in ways that are caring and helpful. I failed to do that and I am deeply sorry.”

Dungy’s apology did little to quell critics, who were quick to castigate the sports analyst — who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016 — for making repeated homophobic remarks over the years. (NBC Sports and NBC News are both owned by NBCUniversal.)

In an email to NBC News on Tuesday, an NBC Sports spokesperson stated: NBC Sports does not support or condone the views expressed in the tweet and we have made that clear to Tony. Our company has long and proudly supported LGBTQ+ rights and works hard to ensure that all of our employees are seen, acknowledged, recognized and respected.”

Dungy could not be reached for comment. 

Since Dungy’s controversial tweet, several op-eds published in prominent media outlets, including The Washington Post and The Guardian, have criticized the former NFL player and ex-Indianapolis Colts head coach, with the Post accusing him of using “religiosity as deodorant for a theme of intolerance.”

For followers of Dungy on Twitter, the cat litter tweet came as no surprise. NBC News found at least a dozen tweets from Dungy’s account, from 2012 to 2022, that are critical of same-sex marriage, homosexuality and the LGBTQ “lifestyle.”

“No one is saying God will only banish homosexuals to hell,” Dungy wrote on Twitter last June, which was LGBTQ Pride Month. “Jesus said anyone who is not born again by accepting Him as their savior will not enter the kingdom of heaven. That’s the criteria for avoiding hell.”

In another tweet from 2020, Dungy wrote that being “LGBTQ is a lifestyle,” a sentiment that suggests being queer is a choice.

His remarks regarding gay and transgender people are not just relegated to social media. In 2014, he made headlines for controversial remarks on the drafting of the league’s first openly gay player, Michael Sam.

“I wouldn’t have taken him,’’ Dungy told The Tampa Tribune at the time. “Not because I don’t believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn’t want to deal with all of it. It’s not going to be totally smooth ... things will happen.’’

Cyd Zeigler, an LGBTQ advocate and a co-founder of the LGBTQ sports site, has been raising the alarm bells on Dungy’s anti-LGBTQ sentiments for years. Just ahead of NBC’s NFL playoffs coverage, in which Dungy had a major part, Zeigler published a lengthy op-ed on this month, outlining his nearly two-decade pattern of homophobia. 

“I’ve never called for Tony Dungy to be fired or lose his job or his ability to provide for his family,” Zeigler said. “What I’ve always asked for is that he and NBC explain themselves.”

On Saturday, NBC Sports Chairman Pete Bevacqua and NBC Sports Executive Producer and President Sam Flood sent an email to staffers, which was shared with NBC News. In the memo, the executives acknowledged that Dungy shared a tweet that “perpetuated a debunked myth belittling to transgender people" and noted that the tweet was deleted and that Dungy apologized directly to his NBC Sports production team.

Shefik Macauley, an NBC Sports employee who is among the leaders of NBC Universal’s LGBTQ employee resource group, said NBC Sports’ response has been, overall, “favorable” to him and other LGBTQ staffers. However, he noted that he unsuccessfully tried to get the company to have Dungy apologize on air. 

An NBC Sports spokesperson confirmed Macauley’s request for an on-air apology.

“Leadership agreed that the apology was best delivered on the platform where Tony had made the mistake — on Twitter,” the spokesperson said.

“If someone is empowered to be on camera and be the face of whatever platform that is, then we should be able to address it with that same audience that we’re empowering that person to be in front of,” Macauley said. 

Zeigler said he isn’t convinced that Dungy’s anti-LGBTQ rhetoric would stop anytime soon. 

He pointed to Dungy’s upcoming speaking event at the annual Men’s Advance conference, which will be held in March and hosted by evangelical Christian pastor Andrew Wommack. Wommack is known for his anti-LGBTQ views and has previously claimed that homosexuality is “three times worse than smoking,” adding that gay people “ought to put a label across their forehead, ‘This can be hazardous to your health.’”