The dominant theme in this year’s Super Bowl — one of the most media-intense events in the history of Earth — has been that this marks the first time two black coaches have led their teams to the big game. This is a compelling story line and deserves to be in the lede because of its historic significance, but there is a subtler story line that has been floating under the radar and is equally compelling.
It’s so compelling, in fact, that ESPN.com’s Michael Smith wants everyone to stop “talking about the colors of these men’s skin” and start talking about the faith and values factor:
[Tony] Dungy and [Lovie] Smith are Christian men who serve the Lord first and spend nearly as much time serving their communities. Doesn’t prevent them from winning. And often. In just three seasons Smith, last season’s Coach of the Year, has helped build the Bears into a league power. Dungy has won more regular season games than any coach since 1999. Where does color factor into that?
After they won their conference championships, you heard Smith talk about his “being blessed” and Dungy give thanks to God. That isn’t just lip service with these guys. As Christians they believe it is their responsibility to let their light shine whenever they’re in the spotlight. Just as they have a game plan for each other come Super Bowl Sunday, both plan to use the global platform that the Super Bowl provides to speak words that could make an impact beyond football. At his oldest son James’ funeral last year, Dungy used the eulogy as an opportunity to teach lessons about manhood and fatherhood.
When networks tend to avoid showing incidents on the field that represent faith, I don’t expect TV commentators to start talking about the faith of Dungy and Smith, but I do predict they will talk about all those wonderful values and deeds done by the coaches. The problem with this is that when you talk about a person like Dungy or Smith and do not bring up their faith you are ignoring the core of that person’s being.
In the same vein as Smith, The Miami Herald‘s Michelle Kaufman dismisses the skin-color story angle as a surface issue and discusses what is at the heart of these two men:
Much will be made of the skin color of the two Super Bowl XLI coaches, and certainly, it is historically significant that Chicago’s Lovie Smith and Indianapolis’ Tony Dungy are the first black coaches to reach the grandest NFL stage. Their names forever will be linked because of the barrier they broke together.
But the more you learn about these two men, the more it becomes apparent their close friendship stems from something far deeper than race — their convictions. Both are devout Christians who don’t drink or curse.
Rather than belittle players with profanity-laced tirades on the sidelines, they shoot a stare that delivers the message loud and clear.
The story is superbly researched, rich in detail and overall just a great read. Contrast the Herald piece with this piece by Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times, which briefly mentions the faith angle in a paragraph on the similarities of the two coaches. It’s great that Farmer mentions the faith angle, but considering that both men say their faith makes them who they are, you would think a story titled “Dungy draws from convictions” would talk more about the source of Dungy’s convictions.
For more on the faith that shapes the values of these two coaches, check out the following Baptist Press articles by Art Stricklin. The first deals with what Smith considers the “most important in his life,” Jesus Christ, and the second talks about Dungy and Colts chaplain Ken Johnson, whom we have noted in the past.
At the end of the LAT piece, Farmer quotes Colts owner Jim Irsay — which reminded me of the post from a week ago, in which I noted that the Dungy-Smith Super Bowl story was kicked off by comments made by the team owner, coach and quarterback after one of the most dramatic NFL games in a very long time.
Other media have followed up on the Dungy angle of the story, but no one to my knowledge has followed up with team owner Jim Irsay or quarterback Peyton Manning to find out if they share Dungy’s faith and values. What gives? In the thousands of questions that Manning and Irsay will answer in the next five days, at least a few should be about their head coach’s faith and how it affects them.