A Bit Of Tarnish Dungy’s Legacy

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - January 06, 2010
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Insight is often disappointing. Whereas ignorance allows us to steer clear of certain harsh realities, the bright spotlight of interest and influence can often uncover blemishes of which we would rather not become aware.

These reflections may not result in complete distrust, but can forever alter our opinions of those we once admired. One couldn’t help feel a bit saddened, for example, after reading the letters of Abraham Lincoln and discovering he wasn’t the sainted social liberal whom we learned about as children. No one wants to know that the great emancipator could be distant, that he possessed a bawdy sense of humor and whose ideas on race relations, while rather progressive for the day, seem unjust in the modern world. To compare former Colts head coach Tony Dungy to the 16th president of the United States would be a mistake.

Throughout his coaching career, Dungy distinguished himself not just as a spiritual person, but as a man of common sense who was unafraid to be himself. In a league filled with bombast and ego in constant need of financial and oral stimulation, Dungy stood out as an oasis of reason.


But after recent comments and actions, time may alter our admiration. Much like Lincoln, revelations do not destroy the man, they just make him more human. Still, it’s a bit disappointing.

The first bit of tarnish on Dungy’s armor was his embrace of quarterback Michael Vick. Dungy met with the former Pro Bowl quarterback while he was in federal prison on dogfighting and money laundering charges. The coach’s comments to Vick about clearing his life through religion was a positive and thoughtful gesture. Dungy was praised for not throwing Vick away and for accepting his faults and helping him find forgiveness. A month after Vick’s release, the coach put his own reputation behind the former Falcon, saying he would sign Vick if he were still coaching.

Dungy’s questionable patronage would appear once again when he came to the defense of Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount, who was removed from the team after sucker-punching a Boise State player before going on an angry and nearly violent tirade in which his own team-mates were not safe. Dungy had a short meeting with Blount before recommending reinstatement to coach Chip Kelly. Personal accountability had given way to convenient excuses reserved for talented athletes. The pattern would continue.

On Dec. 23, Dungy, on Dan Patrick’s radio show, said Vick was an appropriate selection for the Ed Block Courage Award. The award is given to a member of each NFL team who, according to the foundation’s Web site, shows “commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage.” Players vote for the award.

“The Ed Block Award is probably the most prestigious award in terms of the players, because they vote on it themselves. And it’s not for things that necessarily happen on the field,” said Dungy on the program.

Dungy’s charitable acts are numerous and include the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys & Girls Clubs, the Prison Crusade Ministry, and All Pro Dad, which helps men become better fathers, and others too numerous to mention.

But for all the praise correctly heaped on the former Steeler defensive back, Dungy’s failings have come to the front in recent months. He, like far too many others in sports, entertainment and, yes, the media, find it easy to turn a blind eye on bad behavior so long as the guilty party possesses talent.

Does this ruin all future credibility?

No. Like Lincoln, his actions provide a closer glimpse of the real person and not the perfectly created image.

Humanizing heroes is important. But it’s still disappointing.

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