Arts & Entertainment, Sports

Picking Splinters: Diminishing Dungy

The list appears endless. Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith have proven that black coaches can win on football’s biggest stage. Dungy and Smith have proven “Christian coaches” can win on football’s biggest stage. Dungy and Smith have proven that “nice guy” coaches can win on football’s biggest stage.

To listen to tales of these two in the media these days, it feels like the only thing the tandem hasn’t proven is the next digit of Pi. Their achievements this season are certainly commendable, but forgive me if I think this story has only proven that today’s over-analytical media is often guilty of overt generalization. For the last time, the only thing Dungy and Smith have proven is that they are exceptional coaches.

As mentioned two weeks ago in this column, CBS analyst Shannon Sharpe wasted no time jumping to the blanket conclusion that African Americans deserve to be hired as head coaches because Smith’s Bears had earned a trip to the Super Bowl. I’m sorry, that just doesn’t translate. Smith’s successes are Smith’s alone. They don’t apply to every head coach that shares his skin color. Insinuating as much is a generalization and frankly it’s ignorant. It’s just as ignorant as the conclusion that Vince Lombardi was a great coach, thus other white head coaches must also be great. It’s the same logic in both statements — and it’s the kind of logic that equal rights proponents have been trying to vanquish from the NFL for some time now.

Using generalities is a sloppy practice, and as we’ve seen, it can have unjust and problematic consequences. Nevertheless, people are all-too-eager to jump on the slightest bit of partial evidence to help support a personal position.

An exhaustively in-depth Feb. 5 Yahoo! Sports article by Josh Peter looked into the notion that Smith and Dungy were so successful because they were able to connect with their players. Rather than scream at their charges and viewing players as below themselves, Smith and Dungy would try to sympathize with them. In the article, Louisiana State Professor Leonard Moore offered this reasoning as to why Dungy and Smith were successful at that practice: “By them being African-American men, I think Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith understand the culture of the hip hop generation,” said Moore, the head of LSU’s African American studies program.

You read that correctly. Dungy and Smith are black, so naturally, they understand “the hip hop generation.” Not only is it presumptive to say that Smith and Dungy’s race enables them to comprehend a generational issue, it’s also presumptive to say such an understanding helped them excel as head coaches of multi-racial football teams. Do you really think knowledge of the hip hop generation helped Peyton Manning become a better passer? But Moore doesn’t stop there.

“I don’t think [Dungy and Smith] are trying to be players’ coaches at all. I think it’s, ‘Hey, we’re black men and we’ve had similar experiences. I’m going to treat you like a man and in return I expect you to treat me like a man.’ They’re treating the athletes like men, and in the past I’ve seen white coaches treat the players like boys.”

Prof., you are not helping. The way one man treats another man is not contingent on his skin color. Insinuating such vastly over-simplifies the argument. Besides, there’s much more to coaching than helping players emotionally. You think Dr. Phil knows how to attack a Cover 2 Zone?

Everything in this equation (race issues, bridging generational gaps, coaching schemes, motivational techniques) is complex. There are millions of variables in turning a team into a Super Bowl contender, but people are treating the achievements of these two men as though they equate to a larger truth. Sorry folks, it doesn’t work that way.

A black coach, a Christian coach, a quiet coach — none of them are guaranteed to do anything.

Dungy and Smith connect with players because they’re good guys, not because they’re black. They keep players grounded because both coaches have strong morals, not simply because they’re Christian. (If anyone thinks Christianity automatically equates to morality, I advise you to reference your Encyclopedia under the entry: “Inquisition, The.”)

Caring for others and staying true to your principles is difficult for any man, more or less one with the pressure of winning hanging over his head. These guys are exceptional coaches. To say that Smith and Dungy are good at their job simply because they are black, Christian or just plain nice is a tremendous disservice to them and those who would use the coaches as their personal poster boys should be ashamed.

People need to realize that complex questions like “How to win a Super Bowl” require complex answers and should stop reaching for most visible denominator.