God's Politics

“I tell you what, I’m proud to be representing African-American coaches, to be the first African-American coach to win this.” So said Tony Dungy, coach of the now-NFL-champion Indianapolis Colts, after winning the Super Bowl in a Miami monsoon rain. Because Dungy and his good friend, Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith, were the first two African-American coaches to reach the Super Bowl, the big game took on much more social significance than usual. But Dungy made a point to remind the country that he and Smith were not the first black coaches who were qualified coaches at their level in the big game. USA Today quoted Dungy as saying, “I really have to dedicate this to some guys that came before me, great coaches who could have done this if they had got the opportunity,” and noted that he was first hired as an assistant coach in 1981, eight years before the NFL would get its first African-American head coach of the modern era, the Los Angeles Raiders’ Art Shell. He said he wanted it to be a tribute to predecessors who did not get the same chances he did – Jimmy Raye, Sherman Lewis, Lionel Taylor.

I also noticed the unusual tone of the two weeks preceding Super Bowl Sunday. There was no “hot dogging” by any of the players on either side. No trash talking, no chest pounding, and no macho boasting about who was the best and who would win. Quietly and very professionally, the Colts and the Bears just went about their business in getting ready for the game. During the interminably long run-up to the big event, we even saw NFL football players showing humility (pointing to their teammates instead of themselves), being quite gracious (saying good and respectful things about the opposing team and players), and setting a good example on and off the field (no incidents in South Beach nightclubs). The kind of role models these guys would be in Miami became important to me as the father of an 8-year-old who was really excited about the Colts. Just as a precaution, I sent him upstairs with some other kids during the half-time show featuring Prince (but even he basically behaved himself). What a wonderful experience – players being good sportsmen and no “wardrobe malfunctions” at half-time!

I think a big part of this Super Bowl’s success is directly attributable to the characters of these two coaches and the examples they set. No screaming, swearing, or throwing stuff around for these two gentlemen/teachers/coaches. The players followed in their coaches’ footsteps and reflected the ethos and ethics they both embody so impressively. Tony Dungy wasn’t afraid to say where that behavior comes from for him and his friend. Being the first African-American coaches meant a great deal to both of them, but there was more: “It means an awful lot to our country. But again, more than anything – I said it before – Lovie Smith and I, not only [are we] the first two African-Americans, but [we’re] Christian coaches showing you can win doing it the Lord’s way. We’re more proud of that.”

And he didn’t even say that Jesus made the Colts win! Tony Dungy knows better than that. God bless him, and Lovie. Both Luke and I had a great time.

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