I’ve always been a Tony Dungy fan. The first time I remember seeing him he was the defensive coordinator for my dad’s favorite NFL team, the Minnesota Vikings, and my dad told me that he was a brother. Now, Tony Dungy is black and my dad is very not-black so I knew he must have meant that he was a brother in Chirst. Which he did. After Minnesota, Dungy went on to become head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he perfected the Cover 2 and turned the once-laughing-stock Bucs into a defensive juggernaught and perennial playoff power. After the 2001 season Dungy was let go by T.B. and went on to coach the Indianapolis Colts where he remains to this season in which he has guided the Colts to a near perfect 14-1 regular season record.
I’ve always liked him, because of his coaching, yes, but more because whenever I saw him in interviews or read quotes, he always conducted himself with class and humility and seemed to represent Christ well in a world where I’m sure it’s not easy to do. Never was this more evident then in the past two weeks when his 18 year old son was found dead in his apartment, an apparent suicide (click here).
The same day his son was found, I got my ESPN the Magazine for this month, with Dungy on the cover. It seemed a strange but appropriate irony. Here was a cover story written about a man known around the NFL for his humility and faith, as much as his impressive skills as a head coach (102-58 record) and now the opportune moment for those traits to be on display in the most tragic of situations. Could he really live up to that repuation in the glaring heat of the sports-media machine spotlight? It’s easy to have faith and humility when you’re coaching the best team in the NFL and everything seems rosy, but what about after a hearbreak of this magnitude? Certainly, no one would have blamed him if he didn’t quite live up to his own image. But he did.
At numerous press conferences after his son’s funeral, Dungy’s verbalized his faith and what it means to him and his family. He didn’t do it in a generic, “We appreciate your prayers. God is with us.” kind of way, but by talking about the promises God has made to us in the Bible and by talking about how Christ is his savior. This link has a video clip of one such occasion (if you have ESPN Motion installed on your computer, it’s free if you don’t, there is another clip that was good too that you can watch). I was totally moved and blessed by what he had to say and the way he said it; with complete confidence and a realness. As an unbeliever I think you would be able to see that he actually meant what he said and that his faith is what gives him the strength he seem to exude. Not a macho-football-player-bravdo strength, but real inner manly strength. A strength that can only come from God.
With all the bad stuff we see and hear from or about athletes and coaches, it’s reassuring to know that there are still those out there that have the strength to stand for something more and the courage to say so. It’s too bad they don’t get noticed until bad stuff happens to them.