This is why they call it a “distraction,” a bullshit, mealy-mouthed, value-neutral word that allows homophobia to be treated with the same sterile gloves as other news items. You can shove a lot under the “distraction” umbrella—there, a gay player is no different than a player who beats his wife, or a player who speaks out on social causes, or a player who runs a dogfighting ring, or (40 years ago) a black player. All bring media attention; all might make some people uncomfortable. This is the utility of citing distractions. It allows you to register your discomfort without overtly revealing your bigotry. America is damn good at blaming the discriminated for being discriminated against.
Couching antipathy to Michael Sam as a distaste for distraction gives Tony Dungy plausible deniability. It gives bigots who agree with Dungy rope to string up his critics for twisting his words. It gives ESPN the leeway to put this on First Take, this—if we stop mincing words—20-minute, nationally televised debate between Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless over whether it’s OK to be anti-gay. It is insane that this exists in 2014, but here it is—and it exists only because it’s nominally a debate about distractions, not about religion or politics or prejudice or any of the other things it’s actually about.
"Embrace debate," goes the justification for ESPN’s sports-shouting model, and on most occasions, it merely makes viewers dumber. Here, with a real issue featuring pretty fucking clearly defined right and wrong sides, it is actively harmful to society. Simply holding a debate over homophobia’s acceptability is in effect already answering the question, endorsing the notion that there are two legitimate sides, roughly equidistant from the truth.