Doyel: Litter boxes? Seriously, Tony Dungy? Stick to sports

Tony Dungy seems like a nice person. Like, a really nice person. But I’m struggling with that description, as I struggle applying that description – a really nice person – to anyone who'd be so cruel to some of the most innocent, fragile, vulnerable among us.

Tony Dungy, our beloved Tony Dungy, Indianapolis Colts Super Bowl hero and Hall of Fame coach and all that trivial stuff, made an analogy Wednesday between school bathrooms for transgender children and litter boxes for kids who identify as cats. Maybe he was joking. Maybe he was serious. Not sure which is worse.

Related: Tony Dungy deletes controversial cat litter tweet after backlash, outrage

Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy talks to his coaches on his radio against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2002, in Jacksonville, Fla. Dungy, in his first regular-season game as Colts head coach, got a win as his team defeated the Jaguars 28-25.
Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy talks to his coaches on his radio against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2002, in Jacksonville, Fla. Dungy, in his first regular-season game as Colts head coach, got a win as his team defeated the Jaguars 28-25.

Does Dungy not know, or does he just not care, that LGBTQ youth are four times more likely than their peers to attempt suicide?

Listen, you cannot write the words “Tony Dungy” and “suicide” without feeling compassion for the man. Dungy’s own child, James, died by suicide at 18 in 2005. The reasons are unknown to me. I hope they’re unknown to you. They’re none of our business.

But as a parent myself, a father of two boys, a man who has spent days in a cheap hotel near a mental health ward where a close family member was held after a suicide attempt, the whole thing makes me nauseous. James Dungy’s pain, Tony Dungy’s pain, my own family member’s pain – sedated and confused, zombie-like, surrounded by other patients with vacant stares.

This is what suicide can look like, and that’s for the ones who survive the attempt, for their family members. They’re the lucky ones.

Not everyone is lucky. Tony Dungy knows that too well. Which makes what he did Wednesday so hurtful, so mystifying, so reckless.

So goddamn cruel.

Tony Dungy, meet Rob Portman

Former U.S. Sen. Rob Portman has a story to tell, a story for Dungy and millions more to hear. It’s not a parable, which is more Dungy’s comfort zone, but a story about actual life.

In this story, this true story, Portman was still the U.S. Senator from Ohio who voted consistently against gay marriage, whose anti-LGBTQ positions were so well known that, when he spoke in 2011 at the University of Michigan law school commencement, about 100 UM graduates walked out.

Portman had privately changed his views on gay marriage by then. He hadn’t gone public yet with his change of heart, but when 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney was considering Portman as his vice president, Portman told his truth:

He now supported gay marriage.


Because he’d recently learned that his son was gay.

As I recall, having lived in Ohio in those days, people on Portman's side of the aisle felt betrayed while supporters of gay marriage were thrilled with his reversal. As I recall, not nearly enough attention went to the idea that Portman had to learn he has a gay child – well what do you know? – to decide gay people deserve the same rights as himself.

Read that again. Are you anti-gay marriage? Then read it a third time. Maybe a fourth. Now imagine your son or daughter, father or mother, brother or sister, coming out as gay. Would that change how you feel? If not, here’s another question: Are you a monster?

Speaking of, let’s get back to Tony Dungy.

Here’s what happened Wednesday: In Minnesota, where Dungy played college football, lawmakers are considering a state bill that would require menstrual products in boys’ school bathrooms. Dungy responded on Twitter by saying the following:

"That's nothing,” he tweeted sarcastically. "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."

With so many children questioning their gender identity, inclusive school districts are trying to accommodate the obviously sensitive bathroom issues. But as happens in this world, generally from the same group of people, uncomfortable truths get distorted into outright lies, like the trope that some school districts are offering litter boxes for kids who identify not as male or female, but as feline.

When it’s said as a joke, it’s not funny. When it’s said seriously, it’s a lie that has been proven false. But some people, the same group of people over and over, don’t follow all the news, only the news that makes them comfortable. Into that vacuum has emerged a number of websites and even TV stations that traffic in trash, because some people prefer it that way.

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Within hours Dungy deleted his tweet, whether from self-reflection or self-protection. He's an NFL analyst for NBC Sports.

Was he trying to be funny with his tweet about kids and litter boxes, or does he believe that thoroughly debunked myth?

Either way, Tony, you should know better. You of all people.

Read that Bible again, Tony Dungy

The LGBTQ issue is not going away. Hell, it’s not an “issue.” Not a choice, either. It’s just … life. Some people are lesbian, some are gay, some are bisexual, some are transgender, some are questioning.

And some aren’t.

Some of those who aren’t, so many of those who aren’t, identify not with the pronoun “him” or “her” or “them,” but with a Biblical verse. You see these people on Twitter, awful human beings tweeting hateful things underneath a bio that offers “John 3:16” or First Corinthians this or Second Timothy that.

Dungy released in July 2007 a best-selling memoir titled “Quiet Strength,” along with a 96-page paperback addendum:

“Quiet Strength: Men's Bible Study.”

People who think like Dungy, they tend to offer a pious smile and assure us that they love all people, even – sorry, including – them. You know, homosexuals. Hate the sin, not the sinner, right?

The LGBTQ community must feel awfully loved by folks who openly hate who they are. Because our sexuality, that’s not a choice. That’s me. That’s you. Among the most powerful questions anyone has ever asked me is this:

When did you choose to be straight, or cisgender?

Mind. Blown. Because I didn’t choose this. I am this. People like Rob Portman’s son, like close relatives of my own, they say the same thing: They aren’t choosing. They just … are.

Along comes Tony Dungy with his joke about litter boxes, reminding people in the LGBTQ community that it’s still not safe out here. Not for you. Not if you’re not like us, people like Portman then and Dungy now, people who don’t care enough to believe or even understand you. Maybe they will someday, if their own child comes out of the closet. Maybe not.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 130 people in the United States will die today by suicide. According to The Trevor Project, one LGBTQ youth between 13 and 24 attempts suicide every 45 seconds. Read the last few paragraphs again.

Someone else just tried.

Count to 45.

Someone else just tried.

How many end up in a casket? How many in a medicated haze, protected from themselves, visited by terrified family members staying around the corner in a cheap hotel?

How many were pushed too far, the last of a thousand small cuts, by a joke about litter boxes?

People like Tony Dungy, you have a lot of power, a lot of influence. Use it compassionately.

Or stick to sports.

Find IndyStar columnist Gregg Doyel on Twitter at @GreggDoyelStar or at

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This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Tony Dungy tweet about litter boxes ignores LGBTQ youth suicide issue