Saturday, March 10, 2007

IE Joins Chorus Questioning Coach Dungy's Appearance At IFI Dinner

Bilerico blogger Don Sherfick set off a firestorm of sorts among both the local and national GLBT community when he questioned Indianapolis Colts Coach Tony Dungy's decision to be honored by the Indiana Family Institute, a conservative religious group which has steadfastly opposed equality for gays and lesbians, at its annual dinner this month. Sherfick wrote in late January:

The IFI is one of the leading proponents of SJR7, the proposed Indiana Constitutional amendment on marriage rights, and other legislative efforts to deny equal rights to LGBT folks . . . Tony's prominent appearance before this group, as a representative of a major sports institution in Indianapolis, sends a chilling message . . . The implied message of Colts and NFL corporate endorsement of the IFI's views is a very unsettling one.

Sherfick's original post gained notice by a number of GLBT blogs and organizations across the nation. Although I've been a frequent critic of the IFI and its leader, Curt Smith, I did not criticize Coach Dungy for his participation in the IFI event. It is my belief that Dungy accepted the invitation without consideration of where the organization stood on gay rights issues, and he's not been noted for getting involved in the political process in the past.

Some of you may recall that I questioned Gov. Mitch Daniels' decision to speak to the group, particularly given Smith's public statements opposing the governor's EEO policy of non-discrimination towards gays, lesbians and transgender state employees. I felt it sent a chilling message for Gov. Daniels to give his blessing to a group that was fighting so hard to relegate GLBT citizens to second-class status. The Indiana Action Network originally planned a protest of the event, but backed down at the urging of folks from Indiana Equality, including its then-president, Kathy Sarris.

I was a bit surprised to read in the Star today that Sarris, on behalf of IE's Education Fund, was speaking out against Dungy's appearance before the IFI. "From my perspective, I am a little disappointed in that I would think he would want to stay out of the political arena, and the family institute is a political organization," said Kathy Sarris, president of the Indiana Equality Education Fund, a gay-rights advocacy group. Dungy did not agree to an interview in response to the story, but the Colts did provide a statement. The Star's Robert King reports, "The team said it was unaware of any specific goals of the Indiana Family Institute, noting that "Coach Dungy's feelings on the importance of marriage and family are well known." "He, of course, is free to speak to any group he wishes," the statement added. "The club does not take positions in political issues in which it is not directly involved. The Colts do not endorse any political or religious position taken by any group that any Colts employee decides to speak or lend his or her name to."

For his part, Smith tells the Star he's never discussed the issue of gay marriage with Dungy, and that it would be wrong for anyone to assume his position on the issue based on his appearance at the IFI event. "The goal of this award is to celebrate people who live out the family ethic that we think is essential to healthy families. You don't have to agree with us on all of our public policy issues," he said.

I find it interesting that IE would make a statement on Dungy's appearance before the IFI, while the organization insisted everyone else keep their powder dry about Gov. Daniels' appearance before the IFI a couple of years ago. IE also refused to publicly speak out against Eric Miller and Micah Clark when their respective organizations, Advance America and the American Family Association, were putting out false information about Rep. Greg Porter's hate crimes bill, HB 1459, and using bigoted and hateful language singling out GLBTs in their successful effort to defeat the legislation. A battle against Coach Dungy over this issue will not win any public support for gay rights. IE would do well to choose its battles more wisely in the future.

Bilerico's Bil Browning is reacting to the Star's late arrival to the issue. Click here to read his response.


Anonymous said...

What the hell was IE thinking? They say nothing when they should be jumping up and down and then they make a comment about this!? Are we sure that the aren't playing for the other team? I'm really beginning to wonder.

credo said...

Choose battle wisely..Because this simply another racial attack to highlight African-Americans not supporting same sex issues.

It is attacking Dougy who is being honored for his stellar belief in familynot the political organization that politicially battle same sex issue.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was rather humorous though that the Star pulled a Nuvo and didn't talk to anyone from about the story. Why the IEEF would decide to get involved is beside me.

I posted on this too at:

Anonymous said...

Being a newcomer to the blogging community with, I had to do a doubletake and a "Who, Me?" routine this morning when I saw my name at the beginning of your post as one "started a firestorm of sorts" over Tony's appearance before the IFI. Some of my fellow LGBT Colts fans are a bit non-plussed with me, and I have to remind them that in my post I not only expressed a lot of admiration for Tony both as coach and family person, but also the my partner and I braved the coldest day in several years to cheer Dungy and his Superbowl Champs inside the Dome upon their return. And we've taking a trip to see and touch the Vince Lombardi Trophy in the next week or so. But I continue to find it sad that Tony's appearance means that the IFI will be able to spend
the thousands of dollars in revenue above what is usually gets to fund, directly or indirectly, persuasion of the public and its legislators to deny our community equal protection under the law. So I repeat the title of my January Bilerico post: "Tony, say it isn't so" Perhaps he still might, although I'm not watching the scoreboard.

Anonymous said...

My apologies for the typos and extra words in my last comment. The "publish your comment" button got pushed a little to early.

Anonymous said...

As to Credo's comment above about the controversy being "simply another racial attack to highlight African-Americans not supporting same sex unions", balderdash. My African-American long term partner and fellow Colts nut and I realize and regret that due to largely religious reasons, a number of blacks do indeed oppose same sex unions. Tony may or may not be one of them in his heart. If the IFI were merely another church congregation it would different. But IFI is political to the core. If it used a picture of any of Tony's white predecessors in Colts insignia as it has to promote this event, I would equally concerned.

Anonymous said...

Kathy Sarris took a phone call from a reporter. She referred only to the political nature of IFI... In responding, she didn't put any gay marriage spin on the story whatsoever.

Being on the receiving end of these phone call from time to time myself, I can tell you exactly what happens. The phone rings and it is star reporter looking for a reaction. You have several options, all of which you must cycle through in a hurry. You can decline comment, which is also declining an opportunity to balance the opposition. You can comment, and do your best to ensure that whatever view gets put out there is a respectable one. You can offer the names of other people and organizations that the reporter should call.

Usually what you end up doing is all three in a matter of seconds. You decline to comment on things that would detract from an emphasis you prefer, you comment on what you think you can venture without damaging anybody's interests or strategies, and you offer other people the reporter should call.

Then you recognize that the article necessarily must be succinct and edited, and what you said or declined to say may or may not be reflected as you would have hoped, but that's life, and the reporter may or may not have had time before deadline to contact others you suggested, or may or may not have concluded that what others said could or should be used in the space an article affords.

I think both Kathy Sarris and the guy (who surely had no idea of local strategy with regard to Dungy) did a fairly decent job of responding, under the circumstances.

(Gary, I suggest that you have some excellent thoughts to add should a reporter call, but your history of criticizing the Star I suspect minimizes the chance a Star Reporter will take that step!)

Gary R. Welsh said...

The Star article omits the background as to how the story arose on the blogs, specifically, Bilerico as Bil points out. Because Sarris is the only local figure quoted in the story, one is left with the impression she was the one carrying the issue. I would point out, she allowed herself to be identified in her leadership position with IE without making any effort to disabuse the reporter of believing she was speaking for herself and not on behalf of IE. And Chris, I really don't care whether a Star reporter calls me for an interview. I know my blog is thoroughly read by lots of folks over there on both the reporting and editorial staffs. (There are literally days when will represent 3%-4% of the unique hits to my site) Reaching those folks through my blog has had far more impact on the Star's reporting of GLBT issues than anything IE has ever done.

Anonymous said...

Kathy Sarris speaks for nobody in the gay community but herself. Please go away, Kathy. You have harmed us enough already.

Jerame said...

The attacks on (and defenses of) Kathy don't really get to the heart of the issue here. We all know there are a lot of Kathy haters out there, but let's not stray from the real issue here...

The first BIG issue is the Star's lazy reporting. It took them two months to find this story - a story that's made national news, mind you - and then they still couldn't be bothered to actually go to the source. Instead, they called Kathy Sarris, who has not had any part in this whatsoever until now.

Further pointing to problems with the the Star's coverage is that they assign this to the Religion reporter. Come on! Bobby King is as biased as they come. When Indiana Action Network disrupted the Eric Miller rally two years ago, Bobby King latched onto Seth Kreigh (one of the IAN disruptors) and invited him to lunch and generally harangued him trying to get him to come to church and see the light of his evil and perverted ways. Bobby King is bought in to the religious right doctrine lock, stock, and barrel.

Finally, Kathy Sarris is certainly savvy enough to realize that bringing this issue up NOW is not going to help our cause with SJR-7. She's also savvy enough to point a news reporter to the CORRECT source rather than commenting herself. It's just odd to me that she chose to comment rather than refer the reporter to the correct source.

Tying this story to IE or IEEF ties it to gay marriage in the public's eye and makes it look like those gay marriage queers are just going after whatever they can to get some publicity. That hurts our cause in the short term but really won't have any effect at all in the long term. Let's keep that part in perspective.

What hurts us in the long term is the insistence of the Indianapolis Star to continue to rely on the same 1 or 2 people for quotes from the LGBT community and to consistently and repeatedly do slipshod, half-assed reporting. Until the Star can start doing balanced stories that don't always revolve around marriage, we are going to be pigeon-holed as a community.

This story is about a hate group that is being legitimized by one of the most visible and well-liked individuals in our state. It has little to nothing to do with marriage.

(this comment cross-posted to

Gary R. Welsh said...

Jerame, your point about the Star not catching this story sooner is a valid point. Have you noticed they've said next to nothing about the raging student sex scandal at the Warren Township school? It's been all over the national news and the Star treats it like it's a nonissue.

credo said...

Chris Douglas wrote an excellent response to This post. Douglas is so write about reporters and the spin on the story. Therefore when speaking with a reporter, the message you want to convey, chose your words wisely. When I read the article, my lens picked up this message. Thank you

For Don :balderdash. My African-American long term partner and fellow Colts nut and I realize and regret that due to largely religious reasons, a number of blacks do indeed oppose same sex unions.

Hmmm. Sexual preference and racial attack is two different issue. Sleep black does not mean ones not have racial issues. True there are some in the African-American religious community who are not big on same sex issue but this is true in the raced white religious community.

My lefted what I wanted to attack in the article which was the same sex community attacking Dungy for attending an anti-gay organization. And I suggested that these folks focus on the organization.

Thank you. Now I'm making my way over to too read some more.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Jerame wrote, "When Indiana Action Network disrupted the Eric Miller rally two years ago, Bobby King latched onto Seth Kreigh (one of the IAN disruptors) and invited him to lunch and generally harangued him trying to get him to come to church and see the light of his evil and perverted ways. Bobby King is bought in to the religious right doctrine lock, stock, and barrel."

That is an outrage. A reporter who would do something that outrageous in pursuit of an ideological, religious agenda, has no business writing for the newspaper.

Anonymous said...

It is not a new issue, that reporters in this town are lazy.
If you're flattered when they call for a comment, and can't muster a "no comment" in a critical time like the one we're in now, you don't deserve to speak for anyone.

Any defense of Kathy's reacton is sad. She should've known better. "No comment" is just as easy as her self-aggrandizing comments.

The entire IE organization needs to learn how to judge situations, and how to comment, not comment, and gauge reactions. It's all about proportion, and it sadly seems no one there understands the subtle but important role they are playing.

I'm shuddering, thinking what future stupid IE comments await us. This is a critical time, so close to the House action on SJR7. IE has oft demonstrated they have no idea what to say and when. A sad lot of self-serving publicity gluttons. And, in some cases, expensive--I'm told our lobbyists are pulling down close to 20 large a session.

Which is why, when the resolution is assigned to committee, we must write, call and visit our House members en masase. IE cannot and should not be trusted to delvier this message in a vacuum.

I am disappoitned in Tony for not knowing more about this organization. The black caucus's support for our position on SJR7 is tenuous, because of historical and religious backgrounds, and public comments like Kathy's do not help one bit. I can think of State Reps who are trying hard to stick with us, but who are equally troubled by this situation. You can too, if you think about it for a second...

Race had NO place in this discussion. Ever. Tony Dungy booked this event two months ago. I think our carping about it ublicly might have just increased ticket sales. Duh.

But before we criticize a coach for speaking to a group, we'd best be about the business of ensuring our own house is clean. And with IE "leading" us or speaking "for us," we're a sorry lot.

Maybe we can put together a business delegation tos peak to all our professional sports teams, about our support for them, and our desire not to be bashed by our town's sports heroes. After all, we have all subsidized these athletes. We do have a stake in their futures, beyond our support for champions.

Still a Colts fan. Disappointed, but still a fan.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone thought, that with proper advance work, someone might be able to get to Tony. And ask him to say something like this at the banquet:

"My focus on faith values mirrors some of yours. But can we please stop bashing fellow human beings based solely on their sexual preferences?"

Or something similar.