Leo Durocher allegedly said that “nice guys finish last”. When you look at the most successful coaches of recent years you would not generally use “nice” as the first descriptive word.
Indianapolis Colts Coach Tony Dungy is one of the nicest, most admired men in professional sports. He has the respect of his team and those who follow the sport. One year ago he dealt with the tragic death of his son James with dignity and strength. This month he coached his team to a win in the Super Bowl. And now he has created controversy with this statement made to CBS sportscaster Jim Nantz after the game.
Jim Nantz of CBS Sports: This is one of those moments, Tony, where there is also social significance in this victory, and to have your hands on the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Tell me what this means to you right now.
Tony Dungy: I'll tell you what. I'm proud to be representing African-American coaches, to be the first African-American to win this. 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.
The blogosphere lit up with analysis of Dungy’s comments. LA Daily News Columnist Kevin Modesti wrote a piece that praised Dungy’s character while still asking a few questions. I have added my comments after each query.
Does Dungy really think "showing that you can win doing it the Lord's way" has more social significance than breaking the Al Campanis generation's stereotypes about blacks in sports management positions?
No. I think he was saying that the individual viewer and the country would decide the social significance. Nance asked him what the accomplishment meant to him. Tony Dungy was speaking for himself and for his good friend Lovie Smith. They believed that winning while living by their faith and principles meant more to them than the race issue. Dungy answered the question honestly. Isn’t that what we clamor for from celebrities? Or would we prefer the tried and true cliché fest immortalized in the movie Bull Durham?
Crash Davis: It's time to work on your interviews.
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: My interviews? What do I gotta do?
Crash Davis: You're gonna have to learn your clichés. You're gonna have to study them, you're gonna have to know them. They're your friends. Write this down: "We gotta play it one day at a time."
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: Got to play... it's pretty boring.
Crash Davis: 'Course it's boring, that's the point. Write it down.
Tony Dungy answered the question that was posed. And it wasn’t boring.
Was he suggesting that alongside black kids inspired by the sight of two black men at pro football's pinnacle, there are Christian kids whose minds have been changed about whether they can make it big?
Don’t think so. I think he was saying that you can be successful and hold onto your faith. Period.
Should other winning football coaches take offense from the implication that they've been doing it the morally corrupt way?
No. But I suspect that at least a couple of coaches are looking to adopt the “Lord’s Game Plan” before training camp starts. West Coast offense. 3– 4 defense. Lord’s way. Whatever it takes to win.
Should believers of other religions take offense from any or all of this?
Why should they? Tony Dungy has earned the platform to speak by consistently living his faith through adversity and heart wrenching tragedy. Dungy was saying that he had stayed true to his values and that he was successful with those values. Dungy doesn’t curse. He never raises his voice. He doesn’t demean his opponents or his players. Are those exclusively Christian values? Of course not. An agnostic could be just as nice and soft spoken and civil. But for Tony Dungy it was his faith in Christ that was the foundation for his values and approach. Christianity worked for him. He earned the right to speak and he spoke. Good for him. And I have to tell you it is really nice to see a nice guy finish first.
Dave Burchett is an Emmy Award winning television sports director, author, and Christian speaker. He is the author ofWhen Bad Christians Happen to Good People and Bring'em Back Alive: A Healing Plan for those Wounded by the Church. You can reply by linking through