This ESPN.com piece on Indianapolis Colts football coach Tony Dungy is one of the best examples I’ve ever seen of a writer stepping back from a situation and letting the story’s characters drive the narrative. The article is brutally frank about life, death and the importance of faith in this particular father’s life.
While published on Friday, the piece was appropriately placed as a Father’s Day feature. (Dungy’s son, James, was found dead last December. His death was ruled a suicide.) According to the site, ESPN will air an extensive interview with Dungy at 11 p.m. Sunday. It will be interesting to see if the televised interview is much different from this article. Video can be more effective in communicating large themes, but it’s rarely as thorough as print.
For those of you who wonder what an NFL coach and religion have in common, click, here and then here and here. I believe Dungy’s story is one of the most powerful religion narratives of the year, let alone his status as head coach of one of the top teams in the country’s largest sporting associations (disclaimer: I was born and raised in Indianapolis and have been a huge Colts fan since the days of Jim Harbaugh).
I believe it would have been difficult for reporter Michael Smith to write the story any other way. Dungy’s testimony is that powerful, and you cannot write about the man without taking a serious look at his faith:
Day by day, blessing by blessing, Dungy can make more sense of something that seemed so senseless just seven months ago. According to Lutz, Fla., police, James’ girlfriend, Antoinette Anderson, said she’d discovered James’ body and that the 6-foot-7 Dungy, who was attending Hillsborough Community College, had hanged himself from a ceiling fan using a leather belt. James would have turned 19 on Jan. 6.
Listening to Dungy put it into perspective, it’s easy to understand how he’s taken his many difficult professional losses in stride. The man is simply unwavering in his beliefs. He can be calm in even the worst storms. Nothing, it seems, can shake him from his foundation.
“The Lord has a plan,” Dungy says. “We always think the plans are A, B, C and D, and everything is going to be perfect for us and it may not be that way, but it’s still his plan. A lot of tremendous things are going to happen, it just may not be the way you see them.
“You may not win the Super Bowl. Your kids may not go on to be doctors and lawyers and everything may not go perfectly. That doesn’t mean it was a bad plan or the wrong thing. It’s just like a football season. Everything’s not going to go perfect. You’re going to have some losses that you’re going to have to bounce back from and some things that are a little unforeseen that you’re going to have to deal with. It’s how you work your way through things.”
The article is rich with theology and even concludes with a Scripture reference. Many of Dungy’s words are unrecognized paraphrases of the Bible, and one I’d like to highlight comes from Mark 8:36: What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?
That passage, which can apply to the Super Bowl and any other achievements we seek in life, is not often seen in news stories. Typically it is just the opposite. Some of the life lessons gleaned from Dungy are remarkable in their frankness:
Even the strongest among us need consoling. It took a conversation with his friend, Mark Bradshaw, for Tony to realize how selfish it was for him to want James with him rather than in heaven with The Father.
As the links to our past posts on this story show, other mainstream media outlets have been able to get the religion in the Dungy story. Perhaps I’ve missed it, but have Christian publications done anything on Dungy and his faith? For reasons other than my enhtusiasm for the Colts, I know about this World piece, but are there others? If so, I’d like to see them.
Photo courtesy of Flickr.