Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Touchdown for God

I didn’t get to hear a whole lot of the play-by-play at the Super Bowl on Sunday night between the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears, given the usual noise level and general rowdiness at my family’s 19th Annual Super Bowl party. I did, however, have the opportunity to hear winning Colts coach Tony Dungy’s acceptance speech when he received the Super Bowl trophy, since by then only a few somber Chicago Bears fans were left sitting on my parent’s couch. What caught me most by surprise was Dungy’s response when he was asked how it felt to be the first African American coach to win the Super Bowl, and to be one of the first two African American coaches to even coach the Super Bowl (the other African American, Lovie Smith, was standing across the sidelines on Sunday coaching the Bears).

Basically Dungy said that he’s happy to be breaking such an important barrier in professional sports, but that he’s even more proud of the fact that this year’s Super Bowl was coached by two Christian coaches who are doing the Lord’s work (he also referred to the Lord a few other times in his speech).

First of all, given the Bear’s fairly awful performance on Sunday night, Lovie Smith might be questioning whether he was doing the Lord's work on Sunday night, or whether God simply wanted to have a few laughs at the expense of Lovie’s quarterback, Rex Grossman. More importantly though, I was caught off guard by the culture that Dungy was reflecting in his comments: that American football from the high school level through the NFL, strongly encourages team prayers before game time, celebration prayers in the end zone, and overall promotes a strong Christian faith as a way to keep players who spend most of their waking time trying to beat the living daylights out of the opposing team, “well-grounded.” Though that culture may indeed succeed with some players, I’m bothered by the fact that it also reinforces a system of conservative social values, the most obvious manifestation of which is the fact that no male professional athlete – in football or otherwise – is openly gay. In fact, I can only imagine that if a Colts player ever decided to come out in the locker room it would be tantamount to deciding that he wanted his career to go the way of Steve Emtman. Ever heard of him? Precisely.

Who knows? Maybe (hopefully) one day I’ll be proven wrong. Until then though, I’d rather hear Super Bowl acceptance speeches that recognize such historic moments as the one celebrated on Sunday night, not as events ordained by a Christian God, but as the true accomplishment of individuals like Tony Dungy, who may be guided by their faith, but who have worked tremendously hard on their own to break down barriers that should have been torn down long ago.