Reporting on the source of those values

dungy and lovie smithThe 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.

tony dungy and lovie smithThe 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.

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  • Roberto Rivera

    Is there a link for that Kaufman piece in the Miami Herald (or as it used to be called on Calle Ocho, Sunshine Pravda”)?

  • dpulliam

    I leave yet another bum link in my post. Thanks for catching that. It’s been added.

  • evagrius

    I’d rather see stories of CEOs whose faith is so deep that they’ve decided to donate all their salary, stock options, etc; to charity or to increase the wages of the lowest workers in their corporation.

    Sorry…but this stuff is just more distraction, interesting distraction but ultimately, just amusement.

  • http://aconservativesiteforpeace.info The young fogey

    It may be another story showing it’s still socially acceptable for blacks to be publicly devout and even conservative Christians but not really for whites in most regions or most social classes.

  • Hans

    Obviously evagrius doesn’t understand that Colts football is more important than most things in life.

    Regardless, I’ve been hearing for quite some time about Dungy’s faith, but only with regard to that it is and not what it is. I was watching his first press conference after the boys in blue arrived in Florida and someone commented on his faith influencing his coaching. He talked about it for a few moments, but didn’t get into any real specifics. I’d assume that was probably due to the nature of the venue. I’d really like to see an interview with him where he talks about precisely what he believes and specifically how that has influenced him. I’d like to know what, in particular, about his faith has caused him to often say that he’d like to be involved in prison ministry after he’s done in football. I’d be happy to do it if I were a journalist, but I ain’t. Mr. Pulliam, how’s about you?

  • dpulliam

    Funny you should ask Hans because it’s something I am working on as a freelance piece. I doubt I’ll be able to get any time with Dungy or Smith this week, but I do plan to talk to some others about their work and their plans.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    It’s great that a FEW reporters are getting onto the Faith angle in the lives of these men. Maybe some of the reporters who are doing their job read “Get Religion” once in a while to stimulate their thinking and research. On the other hand, the fact that the coverage of religious influence on the coaches and the teams and players–at a time the media needs as much new stuff to say as possible–is still so little and so limited (so far) actually shows how the presence of so many irreligious people in the Big Media (according to just about every poll of its influential personnel) negatively affects in-depth coverage of a major sports event as well as all other news coverage.

  • Andy

    Re: Hans, it’s not as though specific information isn’t available. My church’s youth group uses a terrific series of videos produced by an organization of Christian professional athletes, in which the athletes talk about their work and their faith. Last year’s installment featured Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning. They were very forthright about the importance of acknowledging one’s own sin, accepting Christ, living according to the Word of God, etc.

    Just for the record, this year’s video includes Mike Holmgren and members of the Seattle Seahawks.

  • http://www.spudlets.com Marc V

    Thanks for the post – some interesting information. While many of us are curious about the details of both coach’s faith, we may be putting too much emphasis on it. Coaching is their job. What’s your response if someone asks you, “How does your faith affect the way you do your job?”

    In a way it’s a simple question, yet difficult to put into words. One of the coaches answered that he wanted to be transparent enough so that you could tell he followed Christ by the way he acted and the decisions he made. Most of us would like to get to that point as well.

    Spread the Gospel. Use words if necessary.

  • Hans

    Andy,
    Thanks for the info. I’d be interesting in getting a hold of the video. My email address is hansfiene@yahoo.com, if you’d like to send me a like or any appropriate information.

    With regard to media coverage of this stuff, and not to get too off subject, but does it seem to anyone else that the media is more comfortable or kind when discussing the faith of black players/coaches as opposed to white players/coaches? I somewhat remember Kurt Warner being kicked around a bit a few years ago with regard to his faith, but the details for me are a bit sketchy. Outside of sports, I’ve certainly noticed the trend in TV and film, where black characters of faith are presented in a fairly positive light whereas white characters of faith are generally presented as intolerant fanatics. Perhaps I’m seeing a trend that’s not there, but if I’m right, I wonder why this is the case. My apologies if I’m straying from the topic.

  • evagrius

    Gosh, yes, it’s impressive to watch videos of very rich professional players talk about their faith.
    Yes, it’s so inspiring.
    But what about having videos of “ordinary” people and how faith informs their lives? You know, plumbers, postmen, police, fire, doctors, nurses, teachers,lawyers, cashiers, gas station attendants, small business owners, musicians, ditch diggers, fruit pickers?
    The odds are very, very high that the youth watching videos of professional, very rich, athletes will not, not, end up rich professional athletes but, most likely, one of the above professions or callings.
    But noooooo. It always ends up with fascination over overly muscled, physically endowed, but maybe, maybe, not all that wonderful or insightful into life’s tragic meaning, individuals who happen to run fast, move fast, or lift heavy weights.
    The adulation over sports is one of the real problems in this culture and I always think how ironic that those who tout their Christianity the loudest are often the ones who know nothing of how the early Christians viewed the sports of their times.

  • evagrius
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  • Chris Bolinger

    Putting aside evagrius’s cynicism and his or her obsession with people who make a lot of money, I agree that there is too much adulation of sports figures and, for that matter, actors, politicians, and others public figures. But that doesn’t mean that the press should stop reporting on them.

    Of the several Christian professional athletes and coaches whom I have met, none “tout their Christianity the loudest”. In contrast, all are humble and give glory to God for the opportunities that they have had. Dungy and Smith strike me as similarly humble men.

    As for how early Christians viewed sports and athletes, why did Paul use sports analogies so often? Perhaps he recognized that what it takes to be a great athlete is not just being “overly muscled” or to have the ability to “run fast, move fast, or lift heavy weights.” It takes untold hours of discipline and training. It takes sacrifice. For every athlete who makes it (and, yes, evagrius, makes a lot of money), there are tens of thousands more who don’t. The same is not true for every postman, plumber, small business owner, etc.

    As an athlete and a coach, I admire professional athletes and coaches because they have accomplished things that I wish I could accomplish. I am interested in hearing about their lives because I can relate to them. If you aren’t interested and you can’t relate, then tune out. Don’t throw stones.

  • evagrius

    Paul used the metaphor of sports but, interestingly enough, did not advocate sports for Christians, ( or at least, the early Christians didn’t).
    In fact, the early Christians used the sports metaphors to describe martyrs, monks, nuns and ascetics, as ” the athletes of God”).
    Asceticism was regarded, is regarded, as training for prayer.
    As for hearing tales of the lives of athletes, I’d rather hear the tales of lives of the saints.

    And sanctitity is attainable by all, unlike athletic skill, so that, yes, there can be everyday plumbers, postmen and small business owners who achieve it which means that you can achieve it too.

  • http://pos51.org Elmo

    evagrius –

    So don’t read the sports page. There are plenty of those stories out there.

    Why are you upset that Christians are interested in sports? It’s not like if you read a story about an athlete or a coach you aren’t reading anything else. You can read stories about athletes, and about saints…and about athlete saints, like Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy.

  • evagrius

    The adulation that is given to sports is what irritates me, as well as the huge amount of money, publicity,and marketing, all dedicated to the pursuit of an amusement, a diversion to say the least and all geared to making a huge profit.
    It’s a relatively modern phenomenon, at least in terms of its mass media structure and appeal.
    I find it offensive because it distracts people. It’s a sophisticated drug in many ways.
    Besides this, look at how seriously injured some of these athletes get.
    Look at to what extremes young, adolescent athletes will go to become competitive.
    They ruin their later lives for a bit of glory.
    Somehow, I don’t think that’s what the purpose of life is about.
    It’s fine to indulge in athletic competition as long as what the ultimate goal is the enjoyment of the sport so that it’s an expression of leisure, not a distraction.
    What is going now is not that but adulation, almost idolatry. To equate athletes, especially “professional” ones with saints or people striving for holiness is ludicrous and insulting.

    It’s fairly clear that there’s been little theological thought done on the subject. Why is not so clear but I would hazard a guess that most people don’t really reflect on what’s happening in front of them.

  • http://dpulliam.com dpulliam

    Evagrius,

    What entertainment industry in the world does not have a large amount of money, publicity and marketing pumped into it? Look at Hollywood. Look at the music industry. Look at the growth of televised cooking. Welcome to America.

    As for distractions and addictions, the coffee you had this morning is addictive and contains drugs. It also distracts people. In moderation though, coffee and professional sports are not harmful.

    As for injurious and false glory, sports are not the only profession that results in faded dreams and injuries. Consider the kids who dream of being Air Force pilots. Injuries and disappointment are all part of that profession.

    As for idolatry, yes, there are people who abuse sports and worship them. But does that make the sports wrong? People do the same thing with money and even with the children.

    What is wrong with highlighting men who exemplify excellence, professionalism and decency and are not afraid to talk about their personal faith with Jesus Christ? I wish the media would do more of that.

  • Don Neuendorf

    I’ll disavow his tone, but I’m going to shock myself and sympathize with Evagrius just this once.

    I’m excited to see Christian men who humbly live out their faith in the spotlight of the world of professional sports. But I also carry some frustration with the attention given to people for such shallow things as a game.

    Yes, I’ve heard many athletes talk about their sport with Biblical metaphors, comparing their long hours and effort in practice to suffering, temptation, etc. And crediting the Lord for their athletic gifts. Then I read about Christians who are enduring those things for real (try reading the newsletter of Voice of the Martyrs sometime), and all this pales to insignificance.

    Perhaps a seed of all this, for me, is the frustration of watching Christian parents invest endless hours in their children’s sporting events to the detriment (and even exclusion) of their instruction in the faith they profess.

    I’ll watch the Superbowl and enjoy it. My whole family is nuts about the Colts. But I’ll dread the possibility that one of these men will somehow fail to live up to his Christian ideals. THEN you’ll see his faith covered quite generously.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Don and Evagrius, I could debate this with you for a long time, but I don’t think that this is the proper forum for this debate. My parting shot is my favorite line from my favorite movie, “Chariots of Fire”: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” God made some people athletes. Their passion, their abilities, their gifts are realized in sport. Yes, sports can be abused, and abuse is rampant. But the answer is not to dismiss or belittle sports and athletes. For some of us, from professional athletes to weekend warriors, when we compete, we feel His pleasure.

  • Ben

    Tom Brady, after living a full life, died. When he got to heaven, God was showing him around. They came to a modest little house with a faded Patriots flag in the window. “This house is yours for eternity, Tom,” said God. “This is very special; not everyone gets a house up here.” Tom felt special, indeed, and walked up to his house. On his way up the porch, he noticed another house just around the corner. It was a 3-story mansion with a blue and white sidewalk, a 50 foot tall flagpole with an enormous Colts logo flag, and in every window, an Indianapolis Colts towel. Tom looked at God and said “God, I’m not trying to be ungrateful, but I have a question. I was an all-pro QB, I hold many NFL records, and I even went to the Hall of Fame.” God said “So what’s your point, Tom?” “Well, why does Peyton Manning get a better house than me?” God chuckled, and said “Tom, that’s not Peyton’s house, it’s mine.”

    Perhaps it was inappropriate for GetReligion, in which I am sorry and understand if you delete it. But I just hadta. :) God bless you all!

  • http://dpulliam.com dpulliam

    Delete it Ben? I’m a Colts fan. I think that’s completely appropriate.

  • evagrius

    I’m not knocking people who have a gift of being athletic, the same as I don’t knock people who have a gift for music, poetry or mathematics.
    That’s not what I’m concerned about.
    I’m concerned about the adulation given athletics.
    Athletics is far easier to grasp and “understand” than music or poetry or mathematics etc; mainly because it’s physical and most of us can imitate, poorly of course, the athlete.
    We can all run, jump, catch and throw balls etc;
    Most of us don’t do it very well.
    Those who can should be admired but only for that.
    Being athletically gifted doesn’t make you a “better” person than someone who isn’t.
    Neither, of course does being a musician etc;
    But there are some major differences.
    A musical composer on the level of a Bach or Beethoven has given, through his compositions, millions of listeners an intimation of the True Beauty.
    The same can be said for artists, poets, and even scientists and mathematicians.
    And those intimations live on far beyond the originator, indeed for centuries.
    But athletic finesse is only of the moment. It vanishes once the catch is caught, the score attained, the victory won.
    Who remembers the athletes of Rome or Greece? No one.
    But one can still read the Greek tragedies, one can still see the Parthenon, one can still see the Venus DiMilo.
    The athletic contests can now, I suppose, be watched over and over again on film, but it’s not quite the same is it?
    That’s what makes athletics so tragic and gives it its allure but, it also shows its limitations.
    Enjoy sports for what they are but don’t use them as guidelines or models for life.
    That is abusing their true nature.

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  • evagrius

    Read this article about professional football- yes, real “values” there.

    http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/chronicle/archive/2007/02/02/SPGQKNTMNL1.DTL

    An excerpt;

    They came bearing stories of Willie Wood, the former Packer, now destitute, living in a nursing home and being supported by one of Ditka’s trust funds for retired players. Of Herb Adderley, another Packer and Hall of Famer, whose pension for 12 years’ service was a preposterous $126.85 a month until the latest raise, which got him to $150. Of John Mackey, the former Baltimore tight end and co-founder of the modern players’ union, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Of the recent death of Andre Waters, the Philadelphia defensive back who died at 45 but whose brain at autopsy was shown to be the medical equivalent of one of a man in his 80s. Of the anonymous former New England Patriot who allegedly is living on the street.


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