CORTLAND, N.Y.— Michael Vick defended his mentor and friend Tony Dungy in an interview with the Inquirer on Tuesday, arguing that Dungy wasn't trying to stir up controversy when he said that he wouldn't draft Michael Sam, the NFL's first openly gay player.

Dungy, who analyzes the league for NBC Sports and formerly was the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts, was criticized last week for comments that he had made to the Tampa Tribune about Sam, a defensive end whom the St. Louis Rams selected in the seventh round of this year's draft. In his original comments to the Tribune and a subsequent statement, Dungy said that he would have no problem coaching Sam but argued that the media distraction Sam would cause wouldn't be worth the trouble of drafting him.

"Well, that was Coach's opinion," said Vick, who played for the Eagles from 2009 through 2013 and is a backup quarterback with the Jets. "If he was running a football team, then he has a right to what he feels is right and what he'd want. I don't think in any way did he say anything to try to make a big deal out of that situation or try to degrade the situation as a whole. I think he was just speaking about his personal experience had he been in that situation. It was no direct shot at anybody."

In a column that appeared in Tuesday's Inquirer, I mentioned that Vick prizes loyalty. It's one of the reasons he still says such glowing things about the Eagles. They gave him a chance to return to the NFL after his 18-month prison term for dogfighting, and he will always be grateful to them for it.

Vick is every bit as loyal to Dungy, who helped pave the way for his comeback by assuring the Eagles and commissioner Roger Goodell that Vick was indeed a changed man after his time behind bars. He echoed Dungy's assertion that Sam's presence wouldn't "distract" the Rams' teammates, coaches, or opponents.

"This league has broken barriers," Vick said. "This is not the only barrier that we've broken. Over the next 10 or 15 years, who knows what's next? I'm proud of [Sam]. I'm proud that he's playing in this league.

"Football is all that matters at the end of the day, regardless of who's in your locker room. If that kid goes out and has five sacks in a game, everybody's going to love him. We just have to learn to be professionals in all aspects."