Is talking about God news?

dungyIn predictable fashion, the Indianapolis Colts sloppily walked all over the Chicago Bears last night and Colts head coach Tony Dungy gave God the credit for the win. The big question for us here at GetReligion is not whether Rex Grossman should be allowed to remain in the National Football League, but how and when the media should highlight Dungy’s comments.

In the spotlight, before a huge percentage of Americans and thousands of people in the stadium, Dungy said this, as reported by NFL.com:

“This is a great time for both of us,” Dungy said. “I’m so happy Lovie got to the Super Bowl because he does things the right way. He’s gotten there with a lot of class, no intimidation, just helping his guys play the best they can. That’s the way I try to do it and I think it’s great we’ve been able to show the world that not only can African-American coaches do it, but Christian coaches can do it in a way that you know we can still win.”

A piece by Associated Press football writer Barry Wilner excludes all reference to Dungy’s religious comments, which has some readers of this blog, especially Michael Eisenberg, not so happy. Eisenberg writes that Wilner’s piece misquotes Dungy, but from what I can tell, the article uses a different quote, offered either exclusively to Wilner or to a group of reporters.

In general most media outlets got the religion angle. This AP story by Steven Wine includes the quote in its entirety, and John Branch of The New York Times includes a reference to Dungy’s faith in the second paragraph of his piece on the two coaches:

MIAMI, Feb. 4 — In the midst of the rain and confetti falling on Dolphin Stadium on Sunday night, two men embraced near midfield and held on tight.

They were linked by football and friendship, faith and success. But Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith also shared a broader distinction: being the first African-Americans to coach a team to the Super Bowl.

My problem with this paragraph is that it is not factual. It is opinionated. The opinion, in fact, is not shared by at least one of two subjects, Dungy, who challenges the idea that his race matters more than his faith. As quoted in the Times:

“I tell you what, I’m proud to be representing African-American coaches, to be the first African-American coach to win this,” Dungy said. “It means an awful lot to our country. But again, more than anything, I said it before, Lovie Smith and I, not only the first two African-Americans, but Christian coaches showing you can win doing it the Lord’s way. We’re more proud of that.”

dungy gets dumped onI have not been able to account for the differences in the two quotes. If my memory serves me correctly, the Times version is more correct, but in this age of digital tape recorders and Tivos, messing up this quote is really inexcusable.

Is what Dungy said here news? He seems to insinuate that he and Smith are the only two Christian coaches to have ever won “doing it the Lord’s way,” but I really do not think that is the case, knowing that Dungy has a deep appreciation for the game and would know of the many other “Christian Super Bowl coaches” who came before him. How about some sports reporter covering the aftermath of the game asking him at the next press conference?

Art Stricklin of Baptist Press broke some news in reporting that CBS announcer Jim Nantz believed it was OK for Dungy to talk about his faith. But Nantz’s feeling that way isn’t the big story. The story is that “some people” were questioning whether faith was a fair thing to talk about:

MIAMI (BP) — When CBS announcer Jim Nantz asked Colts owner Jim Irsay and head coach Tony Dungy for comments after winning the AFC title two weeks ago, each man gave credit to God before a national TV audience.

“I had some people ask if I didn’t already know what they were going to say about their faith, but I thought, ‘What’s wrong with them expressing their beliefs?’” Nantz said. “We allow everybody else to say what they believe, why not them?”

… “Have we gotten so jaded in this country that we can’t stand to hear the good about a person? If you think that’s corny or hokey, then I really feel sorry for you,” Nantz added.

Good for Nantz and the several other reporters who caught onto the faith story, including the Houston Chronicle‘s Richard Justice and CBS SportsLine.com National Columnist Mike Freeman. While Freeman just mentions the God factor and Justice seems to recognize in his piece that the source of Dungy’s decency, calmness and classiness is his faith, I have yet to see a piece fully explore that aspect of the game. Here’s hoping that happens before this story goes cold.

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  • evagrius

    I’m a little confused. Is it really true that the two coaches are the only Christian coaches in Super Bowl history. That all, all, the other coaches were not Christian?
    How would anybody know?
    Or is it that they self-identify as Christians- that that is how they express their version of Christian faith?
    Others may not choose that particular way of expressing their faith.
    Does that mean that the other coaches were not Christian?

  • Don Neuendorf

    [Refusing to take that bait...]

    Regardless of what anyone thinks of football – or the Superbowl – or all the hype that is, admittedly, way over the top for celebrity-anythings in this country… regardless of all that, wouldn’t any person of faith in this country be thrilled to see two people who have won the accolades of millions publicly seek to direct that praise to their Savior?

    Perhaps Dungy could have expressed himself more eloquently. He is a football coach (and player), not a journalist, after all. Maybe he’s not that glib. But he was given an opportunity to accept the praise of a whole country (minus Evagrius), and instead he confessed his faith.

    Should we be surprized if some news types don’t get that? Not by now. Obviously, some people question the sincerity of any confession of faith. They may suspect that the confessor is trying to take the moral high ground in addition to the athletic high ground (or political, or musical, or dramatic, etc.). The beauty is (Luke 8:17), that light can’t be hidden for long.

  • r

    Very good point, evagrius. Well said.

  • dpulliam

    Super Bowl coaches professing faith in Christ are nothing new in the NFL. Dan Reeves, Joe Gibbs and the late Tom Landry come immediately to mind.

    I’m fairly certain Dungy is aware of these coaches and I know for a fact that he and Reeves are friends. I’m not as sure about Gibbs, but I’m told that NFL coaches are a tight bunch. This is why I’m thinking that Dungy’s comment was not intended in the way it implied

  • http://www.joecapri.com Joseph Capri

    Coach Dungy never intimated that he and Coach Smith were the “only” Christian Super Bowl coaches. It is sad that people would take a benign statement and read self-righteousness into it.

    However, throughout the years, openly Christian men in pro sports have been labeled as “soft” and have been questioned because of a lack of profanity or fits of uncontrolled emotion. Case in point: David Robinson, formerly of the San Antonio Spurs, was once asked if he thought his Christianity kept him from being more aggressive in the post. The assumption, it seems, is that if you profess Christianity, you are either a phony or a wimp. Coach Dungy, in my opinion, was voicing the presence of supporting evidence (provided by the presence of two Christian coaches reaching the game’s highest stage without the cursing or emotional outbursts) for his stance that those things are not necessary coaching traits and/or habits. You can win without the mind-games of a Parcells or the in your face fits of emotion of a Mike Holmgren or Bill Cowher.

    You CAN win, doing it God’s way.

    THAT was his point.

  • Hans

    Evagrius,

    A little context probably helps in understanding Dungy’s comments. I think the main point Dungy was trying to make was in his words about showing that you can win “the Lord’s way”.

    In Tampa Bay, Dungy took a franchise that had been a laughing stock for years and turned them into a perennial contender. But, despite their success, many considered him too nice to get to the next level. He never raised his voice at players, never cussed anybody out, never berated or humiliated anyone. Many people had the idea that, to get to and win the Superbowl, you had to have more fire and brimstone in you, that you had to be willing to grab a guy by the face mask on the sidelines and scream at him when he made a mistake. The powers-that-be in Tampa apparently bought into this mentality and Dungy was fired and replaced with the very anti-Dungy Jon Gruden, who won a Superbowl with Tampa Bay the following year.

    Even in Indy, people began saying much of the same things–Dungy’s too nice, too calm. One major critcism thrown at him was that Dungy was too loyal to his assistant coaches when they didn’t seem to be getting the job done. Through all of this, Dungy refused to change at all, kept on behaving how he felt was right and now, he’s finally won a Superbowl.

    I don’t at all believe that Dungy was denying the faith of anyone who has ever won the Superbowl before him. I think his point was that, as a Chrstian, he tries to model his behavior in a manner consistant with his faith. And, maybe with a bit of a santified chip on his shoulder, he wanted let people know, as this game proved, that you CAN be successful in the NFL by exhibiting Christ-like behavior.

  • evagrius

    Well, I’m waiting for the Super Bowl coach that’s a Buddhist, showing the same calm demeanor of the Buddha, you know, compassion and empathy.
    After all, the Japanese have a tremendous tradition of religion in sports. One only has to look at sumo wrestling which has very strong religious roots, ( originating as temple exercises). (And don’t think that sumo wrestlers are just fat slow slobs. They’re amazingly quick and strong as the 49er’s found out in a practice scrimmage with them.)
    Maybe it was Dungy’s personality in itself, ( one could argue that that is a gift, a grace from God), and not his faith per se that’s at play here. The faith may have strenghtened the personality but it didn’t completely create it.

    Here’s a story about another Christian coach whose personality was not the best;

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/03/sports/football/03ryan.html?pagewanted=2&_r=2

    Notice that Buddy Ryan goes to Mass with his wife and takes care of her.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Here’s a good piece on Dungy, his faith, and football:
    http://www.usatoday.com/sports/columnist/zillgitt/2007-02-06-zillgitt-dungy_x.htm

  • Joel

    The WorldNetDaily version is consistent with the NYT version, with Dungy’s reply given as

    It means an awful lot to our country. But again, more than anything, I’ve said it before, Lovie Smith and I, not only the first two African-Americans, but Christian coaches showing that you can win doing it the Lord’s way. And we’re more proud of that.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Daniel, I’ve read the two versions of the Dungy quote several times, and in neither does Dungy state or insinuate that he and Smith are the only two Christians to have coached in the Super Bowl or the only NFL coaches to have won “doing it the Lord’s way”. People who try to read Dungy’s quote as having an exclusive or exclusionary bent don’t know Dungy and have an agenda.

  • evagrius

    And what is “the Lord’s way” as regards football, a rather brutal,violent, physical game often resulting in lifelong disability although one does receive extremely large amounts of money if one is fortunate enough to last a few seasons?
    This is what confuses me.

  • Sarah Webber

    Like it or hate it, football players do work hard and have to live physically disciplined lives to be successful, for the most part. Even though I’m not a big fan of the sport, I do find that part of it admirable.

  • Hans

    Evagrius,

    It’s true that professional football is a physically strenuous job that can often lead to lifelong disabilities. And the same thing can happen if you shovel coal for a living or teach gym class. A guy can lose a hand getting it caught in a machine while working in a factory. These things occur, but they’re never the intent of the profession. Unlike boxing or ultimate fighting, the goal in football is never to inflict physical injury or pain on your opponent.

    I recognize that some people view football in a rather idolatrous manner. But Tony Dungy, throughout his career, has been a pretty big name arguing against that type of thing. Dungy has made more time for his family than the average NFL coach and his unwillingness to be a Bill Bellichick style tape-room rat was one thing that people cited as a supposed reason for his inability to be a superbowl caliber coach. He’s always indicated that there are many things in life far more important than football.

    To answer your question, doing something “The Lord’s Way” in football is the same as doing something the Lord’s way in any vocation–living as an example of Christ’s love in whatever your station is. You may not like the pomp and hype surrounding the NFL. That’s fine. But to act as though Dungy is somehow a poor example of a Christian because he works in a field where guys sometimes tear an ACL really misidentifies where the truly poor representations of Christianity are. Dungy’s thanking God during the postgame celebration never harmed anybody’s soul. The gnostic and ascetic teachings of, say, Evagrius Ponticus, on the other hand, have.

  • http://jonswerens.blogspot.com Jon Swerens

    Evagrius insinuates that a “rather brutal, violent, physical game” is somehow antithetical to Christianity and the Bible.
    If he has a point as to the journalism of the articles mentioned, I’d like to hear it. But there is no consensus for Evagrius’ view that violence is alien to the Bible. In fact, a better argument could be made that violence is a natural part of the Scripture.

  • evagrius

    Ah, I like that- an accusation of gnosticism and one of defending that violence has Biblical support.
    I’m only questioning the notion that sports, whatever type, have some “inner” meaning that should not be questioned.
    As to the first objector, I am curious as to what you’re arguing, ( although to be honest it does not belong on this post). If you examine the history of the Jesus prayer and its antecedents, you will see that your objections are in a questionable area, ( not to be explored here).

    As for violence being “Biblical”, I’m at at a loss of what the poster is about. Won’t s/he agree that Our Lord was the Victim, as it were, of the powerful at the time?
    Does this mean that violence is therefore inherently sacred?

  • Herb Brasher

    And the second greatest missionary of all time used the example of dedication that athletes give to track and boxing as an example of how Christians should think and live. It would be nice if we had more info from someone like Dungy–how he really lives out his faith as a coach. So, you journalists, go after him–make him talk more about what God has to do with his job. I’m listening!

  • Chris Bolinger

    Joseph, Hans, and Jon, I appreciate your valiant efforts to get Evagrius to see a viewpoint other than his own. Someone can learn only if he wants to. Evagrius is fond of lecturing others on the errors of their ways and calling into question their assumptions and assertions. When he is confronted with evidence that supports others and contradicts him, however, Evagrius changes the subject and asks tangential and increasingly irrelevant questions.

    The tactics of lecturing instead of listening and refusing to change one’s stance are becoming all too common in today’s society. I believe that the appropriate Biblical term would be “willfully ignorant”. It is tiresome.

    One thing that most athletes appreciate about other athletes is that the best ones do their “talking” on the field. In sports, it’s put up or shut up. Think you are the best or that your team is the best? Prove it, on the court, on the field, in the ring…wherever your sport takes place. I will never like it that Jordan hit that shot over Ehlo in Game 5 or that Elway led The Drive against my beloved Browns, but I tip my hat in respect to Jordan and Elway. And I tip my hat to Dungy and Smith for refusing to compromise their principles, even in the biggest game of their careers.

    I realize that this blog is about how the press reports on religion. When it comes to how the press reports on sports, I must say that we seem to hold reporters to a higher standard than we do in how they report on religion. The incredibly poor research and blatant mistakes that we seem willing to excuse in religious reporting would get people fired in sports reporting. The fans won’t stand for reporting by someone who knows less about the sport, the team, and the event than they do.

  • YetAnotherRick

    Evagrius, if you want to condemn a sport that is “a rather brutal,violent, physical game often resulting in lifelong disability,” perhaps you should complain about figure skating. They don’t have helmets and pads. Injuries forced Tara Lipinski to retire at an age younger than when NFL players get their start.

    Now on to journalism…I would like a journalist to ask the NFL lawyers why it’s ok for the coaches to make a tape with their testimonies, and to talk about their faith on the live broadcast, but it’s not ok for churches to show that tape, because the NFL doesn’t want the Superbowl associated with “messages.”

  • evagrius

    Gee, talk about not wanting to see another viewpoint!

    It seems that sports are a religion for some.

    For me, they’re an amusement at best or a distraction certainly not to be taken too seriously.

    I’m always impressed by physical agility and effort, even the concentration and effort involved to excell in a chosen sport.

    I don’t see sports figures as being more insightful about life than anyone else however.
    Nor do I see them as contributing any thing of great value or note to civilization.

    Who remembers the sport figures of ancient Rome or Greece?


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