Winning the Lordís way


Football is Americaís game, and racism is Americaís aboriginal sin. That the former might offer a measure of redemption for the latter is just too good to be true.

Tony Dungy

Yet it was true on Sunday as Super Bowl XLI served up not one, but two, black head coaches, meaning that fans of either team didn’t have to worry about cheering against the first black coach to win an NFL championship. In the event it was Tony Dungy, coach of the Indianapolis Colts, who entered the record books. But moments after hoisting the Lombardi trophy he spoke about his faith, not his race.

“I’m proud to be the first African American coach to win this,” said Dungy. “But again, more than anything, Lovie Smith and I are not only African American but also Christian coaches, showing you can do it the Lord’s way.”

Back in 1996, when Tony Dungy was hired as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it was still something of a novelty to have a black head coach. Dungy in turn hired himself several black assistant coaches, including one Lovie Smith, now head coach of the Chicago Bears, the Colts’ opponent last Sunday.

Dungy and Smith have arrived at the pinnacle of the NFL, and they are not embarrassed to speak about how they do it the “Lord’s way.” Both are devout Christians. Neither of them drink, neither of them rant and rave at their players, and neither of them curse. I am not much inclined toward tee totaling, but I would hoist an iced tea to both of them for cleaning up the language of football.

In three years of being a university football chaplain, I have heard more than a few coaches, both home and away, tear into their players with profanity-laced tirades. Perhaps it works; in the football world there is no shortage of men more mature in body than soul, and no doubt some of them are impressed with a man who is able to scream and swear at his subordinates. To some it might seem tough; to others passionate; to still others evidence of a will to win.

Perhaps it makes for successful teams. After all, many do it, and many win. But Dungy and Smith have at least proved that it is not necessary. And if it is not necessary, then is there any good reason for a coach — especially one leading young men — to conduct himself in a manner unbecoming of a gentleman in any circumstance?

Last fall, we buried one of our assistant football coaches at Queen’s University — Berkeley Brean. Dead at 63, he lived his Christian faith in all aspects of his life, and he demanded of his players that they watch their language — no profanity-spewing players in his charge.

What comes out of a man’s mouth first resides in his heart. As coach Brean would argue, why be satisfied with making a man a better football player when you could make him a better man too?

“If you can’t discipline your mouth, how can you discipline the rest of your game?” he asked his players. He loved football and the boys he coached. It pained him to think that being good at football should require being anything less than a good man. Swearing alone doesn’t make a man bad, but it doesn’t make him better. What comes out of a man’s mouth first resides in his heart. As coach Brean would argue, why be satisfied with making a man a better football player when you could make him a better man too?

At his funeral I noted that there are many good football coaches, but not all of them are good men. It is an occasion for thanksgiving that the Super Bowl gave us two who were both. That they were also black requires a double measure of gratitude, as young black men in particular are in need of just such models in professional sports.

Major league baseball has a decreasing number of black players, and pro basketball, while dominated by black players, has given itself over — in the post-Magic Johnson, post Michael Jordan era — to the gangsta culture that is so corrosive of virtue in young black men.

There was virtue in spades on the sidelines at the Super Bowl last Sunday. Amid all the glitz and glamour, down on the gridiron were two godly men. That they were both black will be recorded in the history books. We should remember, as it was once famously said, the content of their character, not only the colour of their skin.


Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Winning the Lord’s way." National Post, (Canada) February 8, 2007.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.


Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2007 National Post

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