Tony Dungy’s mystery faith

The article by Matthew Kaminski, a member of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, sports a clear, concise headline: “A Coach’s Faith.”

And the opening paragraph leads readers to believe they are in for an in-depth look at the beliefs of one of pro football’s most respected figures, who begins analyzing games for NBC’s “Football Night in America” tomorrow:

Tony Dungy’s favorite verse in the Bible is Matthew 16:26: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his soul?”

But readers (including Paul, who e-mailed us about the article) learn little about what Dungy believes and how these beliefs animate his life. Readers learn instead about Dungy’s life story (which in this telling is surprisingly devoid of faith), his work with troubled quarterback Michael Vick, and his predictions about who will emerge victorious this season in the NFC and AFC. We actually learn more about Dungy’s beliefs about teams than his belief in God. Maybe the article should have been entitled, “A Coach’s Odds.”

Along the way there are tantalizing hints that Dungy must believe something. For example, Kaminski tells us that Dungy is “a best-selling author of inspirational books.” Then it’s on to these two vague sentences:

In his case, faith and family provide direction. For years he has worked through his prison ministry and mentored kids and families, dads above all, and naturally his players.

But that’s the last we hear of “faith,” which isn’t addressed again in the remaining 1,600 words of the article. Did a copy editor slap the wrong headline on this piece? Or did Kaminski intend to explore Dungy’s soul, only to lose track of this goal or decide later that he would change course and pursue other topics?

If the Journal published an interview with a CEO but neglected to name his company or describe his previous corporate experience, readers would rightly feel ripped off. So why does the Journal bait-and-switch its readers by teasing them about Dungy’s spiritual background only to drop the subject before delivering the goods?

Both Paul (who complains that Dungy’s “religious beliefs are never mentioned except for some boilerplate about ‘how are you gonna make the situation better?’ “) and I would like to know more about Dungy’s faith:

- Is he a Christian?
- If so, what kind of Christian is he? Does he belong to a church? If so, which church in which denomination?
- Does he sing in the choir? Does he teach Sunday school? Is he an elder?
- Was he raised in the faith or did he come to faith later in life? Why? What were the circumstances?
- What does Dungy say in his “inspirational” books?
- What does his “prison ministry” do or teach?

These questions — all of which could have been addressed in one detailed paragraph of 100 words or less — would have delivered on the promises made in the headline and the opening sentence. Without this, Dungy’s faith remains an utter mystery, at least in this report (as opposed to plenty of others).

Print Friendly
  • MattK

    That’s very disappointing. The Wall Street Journal usually has the best sports writing. And it’s religion writing is usually top-notch, too. Something seems to have gone wrong in the blending of the two.

  • Northcoast

    In the context of the story, WSJ booted it. As for the missing information, there was some discussion of Mr. Dungy’s faith when his team was playing in the super bowl.

  • Davis

    I would like to know more about Dungy’s faith

    Is there anyone whose faith has been talked about, dissected, and promoted in sports more than Dungy? If you looked at sports stories discussed on this blog, Dungy is likely the focus 50% of the time. It’s no secret he’s a Christian, so why do we care if he sings in the choir?

    I’ve never understood this critique. Why is it important for journalists to tell us what church he goes to? He quotes Matthew 16:26, for heavens sake, it’s not a huge mystery where he’s coming from. So why do sports reporters talking about his relationship with a felon need to know how many times a week he goes to church and what books he likes? Are readers really dying to know this?

  • Wolf N Paul

    Davis: I think you miss the point of this critique. It’s not that the WSJ in general owes us detailed info on Dungy’s faith or that we can’t get this info elsewhere; but the title of their piece promises such information and then does not deliver. In a way this is remniscient to me of the practice of “News of the World” type papers to have really outrageous headlines on page 1 whose promises are not fulfilled inside the paper (of course there is a difference of degree and subject matter!)

  • Jessica Quinn

    Check out This story in the WSJ was obviously about what motivated Tony Dungy to help Michael Vick. We should be applauding that the mainstream media included and acknowledged scripture. Bravo!

    If anyone wants more information about Tony and his personal faith, read his biography, Quiet Strength. This story has been out for a few years now. Obviously this writer knows that so didn’t feel the need to recap it.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Mr. Kaminski is a member of the Journal’s editorial board.

    Let’s hope that, in the future, that board assigns someone else to write feature articles on religious folks.