Untold Super Christian stories

Art Stricklin of Baptist Press had an excellent profile of the faith of Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin earlier this week. Unfortunately, the article seems to be one of the only works of print journalism to be on top of Tomlin’s life-story of faith.

There are two levels of Tomlin’s story that are interesting. Both mirror a head coach-story from a couple of years ago. First, Tomlin is the third African-American coach in the NFL to take his team to the Super Bowl and second, he is relatively outspoken about his faith. While his story is unique, these are two significant similarities to the 2007 Super Bowl involving the Indianapolis Colts’ Tony Dungy. The personalities are different, but the faith is the same.

Here is the material from the Baptist Press article that could have been hooked into the many profiles of Tomlin published this week:

Until this week’s Super Bowl XLIII between the Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals, Tomlin had never had the international platform to follow his mentor Dungy and speak about his faith in Jesus Christ. But that’s exactly what he did before hundreds of reporters in Tampa.

“First and foremost, I want people to know who I am and what the most important thing is in my life, my relationship with Jesus Christ,” Tomlin said in response to a Baptist Press question about his personal faith.

“Football is what we do; faith is who we are all the time.”

Stricklin does a good job showing where Tomlin stands in the Dungy coaching tree (former assistant at Tampa Bay), but also where he stands in Dungy’s discipleship tree. Those post-game comments from players and coaches about the significance of their faith may receive a certain level of eye-rolling from the media, but it is that very faith that motivates the behavior that the television announcers will no doubt praise during the game.

Tomlin’s many profiles don’t completely ignore the faith aspects of his story. Take for instance this quote in a column by The Boston Herald‘s John Tomase:

“I’ve been blessed that I have worked with some great people, people who took a stake in my development,” Tomlin said. “And really, I pull from all of it on a day-to-day basis — lessons learned from leadership. It’s about people. It’s about taking care of the troops. It’s about putting them first. I’ve learned that if you are going to lead, you try to lead with a servant’s heart. I try to do that — try to take care of my men and give them what they need to be great.”

Words and phrases such as “blessed” and “servant’s heart” must unfortunately act as code words for readers who know more about the story. I wish reporters would be more blunt.

Dave Fairbank of the Daily Press also hints at the faith issue:

Tomlin, a father of three, has expanded his charitable work to the Pittsburgh area.

He has participated in charity events there and is a member of the group All Pro Dad, an organization with deep NFL ties that helps men become better fathers.

“Most of the kids looking up to athletes think that there’s a possibility that they can get there,” Orie said, “but there’s a lot more that don’t get there than do. But having Mike as another alternative — it’s just like Mr. Obama being the president now — a kid can look up and say, ‘I can do that.’

“He’s a good role model because everyone that aspires to be an athlete is not going to be one, and he’s an example that you don’t have to be one to have a good life and have an impact on people.”

It would be interesting to compare the coverage of Tomlin with that of the coverage of Dungy when he was in his first Super Bowl. Much of the Dungy coverage focused on the fact that he was the first African-American coach in the NFL to take a team to the Super Bowl. But Dungy’s faith was part of that story just as it is part of Tomlin’s story.

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  • http://markbyron.typepad.com/main/ Mark Byron

    First, Tomlin is the second African-American coach in the NFL to take his team to the Super Bowl…

    Actually, he’s the third African-American coach. Tony Dungy and the Bears’ Lovie Smith broke the color barrier at the same time in 2007.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2677 dpulliam

    Mark, my error and thanks for noting it. The post has been corrected.

  • Uday

    Hi came across this while browsing through.
    I do not fall NFL. In fact I am from way far from that part of the globe :-)
    But the mention of ‘faith’ and the fact that this is a “project of Oxford centre for religion and public life” did intrigue me.
    I just wanted to add this one comment that one cannot separate faith from the object of faith. How often the statement “your faith has healed you” being misquoted.
    I would like to share a link in which I hope will help those who seek a pure religion in their public life.
    http://www.cfcindia.com/web/mainpages/the_true_gospel_and_the_false.php

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