ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JOE KLEINSASSER
There’s nothing like death to put life in perspective. James Dungy, the 18-year-old son of Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, was found dead in an apartment near Tampa, Fla., just days before Christmas.
The Colts game that weekend in Seattle was no longer a priority for Dungy, or the players for that matter. A super season that many Indianapolis fans hoped would result in a Super Bowl championship had suddenly lost some importance.
After the probable suicide was reported, numerous coaches and team officials offered words of consolation to Dungy and his family. Make no mistake, there’s a soft spot in the hearts of even the most competitive players and coaches during a real tragedy.
It has been widely reported that Dungy possesses what too many football coaches do not: perspective. By all accounts, his priorities are faith, family, and football. He’ll definitely need his faith and family in the days ahead.
Fans posted prayers and messages of support for Dungy, who once coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. One Tampa Bay fan wrote, “Not only was he a great football coach for the Bucs, but he is an even better person. It makes me sick that it happened at this time of year to a person that is so giving and caring.”
Chris Mortensen wrote on ESPN.com, “Tragedies and death happen all too frequently in our lives. There’s just something about this tragedy that feels so raw and hurtful that words cannot describe the emotions and grief. And it wasn’t even my child.”
Mortensen said when he spoke to Dungy after he was fired as Tampa Bay’s coach some years ago, Dungy’s greatest concern was for his children, who were struggling with rejection and the uncertainties that surrounded their future.
Mortensen said, “It reminded me of some wisdom that George Young, the late general manager of the New York Giants, imparted on me during this time of year, when we have to speculate and report on people’s job security.”
Young said, “Just remember to show some compassion. When you talk about firing a coach, you’re not talking about how it affects one man. You’re talking about how it impacts 14 families-the family of every assistant coach. You’re talking about 30, 40, 50 people and a lot of them are children.”
Mortensen said, “We sometimes fall short of that compassion. We simply attach a name to a team and a win-loss record. We almost never attach the hearts.”
Perhaps an appropriate question for those of us in Marion County is, are we guilty of doing the same thing on a smaller scale?
I’m not talking about run-of-the-mill second-guessing of local coaches, players and officials.
I’m talking about meanness and mean-spiritedness.
I’m talking about calling someone every name under the sun, forgetting that an official or coach may be a parent, or that a player is someone’s son or daughter.
Do we fall short when it comes to compassion?
Immaturity knows no age limit. Why do adults berate children at sporting events?
Why do some coaches and fans verbally abuse officials?
Why do fans berate opposing players?
Why is it so hard to keep our cool in the heat of competition?
In the book “Why Johnny Hates Sports,” author Fred Engh tells the story of a mother who screamed so much at her young boy that the child said, “Mommy, I hate soccer. I’m not playing anymore.”
Engh writes, “As I said, maturity requires that people anticipate and take responsibility for the consequences of their actions. This mother did not do so. Because she did not anticipate the consequences of her behavior, she blamed the coach, the referee, the game itself, or the crowd, when all she had to do to find the real culprit was to look in the mirror.”
It has been only a few weeks since Dungy’s son died. Don’t you think he would in a heartbeat trade a shot at the Super Bowl for a chance to have his son back?
Michael Smith on ESPN.com said, “James Dungy’s tragic death is a reminder that none of us knows what a day will bring forth, and that tomorrow is not promised to any of us. It’s when we forget that we end up with regrets.”
My prayer is that Coach Dungy will keep the faith.