Lessons from the Dungy’s


In my morning routine of reading my favorite webcomics, I sometimes check the updates of snopes.com, a reference site for urban legends and internet rumors. The website had researched a story circulating the internet that claimed to describe a speech made by Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy. Snopes confirmed the story as a true account of a 2006 talk Dungy gave to a Christian group called Athletes in Action. In his speech, Dungy talked about his life with Christ and lessons that can be learned from his sons. Of course, I disagree with his religious point of view, but I also see lessons to be learned from him and his family.


Lesson 1: Ethnicity is only skin deep. This is the lesson of Tony Dungy. On January 21, 2007, Lovie Smith became the first African American football head coach to advance to the Super Bowl. Hours later, Tony Dungy won the AFC championship to become the second. Most news programs took note of this fact. When most people think of a football coach, they picture a gruff old white man. They don’t picture a soft-spoken black man. In fact, qualified black men are probably often passed up for coaching promotions, although it’s hard to measure such a thing. Therefore, it was a newsworthy item that two black coaches had finally obtained results in the highest level of American football and one of them would be NFL champions in two weeks. At the time, I had thought it was wrong to make a story of these events. If race is truly irrelevant, I reasoned, the fact that the men are black is meaningless. After some time, I began to realize that this actually represents a great deal of progress. That’s because racism is a problem that takes a long time to go away. I can’t just declare skin color to be irrelevant and the past will disappear. For generations, black people have been sincerely considered by some to be inferior to whites. I’m young and haven’t lived through some of the nation’s more blatant racist practices. I didn’t live through Rosa Parks, separate water fountains, white-only establishments, etc., but I do realize hat they’re not far away. Sixty years ago, Jackie Robinson faced a lot of discrimination playing baseball. Fifty years ago, my alma mater admitted its first black students. Now Tony Dungy has earned both a college degree and the Vince Lombardi trophy through his academic ability. It’s a great symbol of progress and a great demonstration to the millions of people that believe that African-Americans are not intellectually capable. (Probably like my grandmother, who I’ve heard use the word “nigger” as an adverb. As in “I hope this tablecloth doesn’t look niggerly.”) Hopefully, this championship is a sign of the world moving towards true equality and the understanding that skin pigmentation is unrelated to character and ability.


Lesson 2: Sensations are necessary in learning what is good. This is the lesson of Jordan Dungy. According to the speech given to Athletes in Action, Tony’s youngest son has Congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis (CIPA), a rare condition existing from birth in which a person cannot feel pain or extreme temperatures. I’ve heard about this condition before, once on an episode of “House, M.D. On the show, a teenage girl with CIPA talks about some of the problems of the disorder, such as the inability to sweat and having to visually inspect her body for injuries daily. Tony’s accounts of Jordan (age 5) proved far more interesting to me, however: “Cookies are good,” Dungy said, “but in Jordan’s mind, if they’re good out on the plate, they’re even better in the oven. He will go right in the oven when my wife’s not looking, reach in, take the rack out, take the pan out, burn his hands and eat the cookies and burn his tongue and never feel it. He doesn’t know that’s bad for him.” This strikes me as fascinating, though fundamentally, it doesn’t seem to be any different from a deaf person being unaffected by a loud noise or a blind person not perceiving a flash of light. Of course, neither of those undetected nuisances is as physically damaging as burns. Certainly, I’m sure we all agree that eating a cookie directly out of the oven is quite harmful. But how is little Jordan supposed to know? He only feels a delicious taste, not a painful hot sensation. I don’t know if he ever notices any negative effects from consuming hot cookies this way. If he doesn’t, I don’t see how he would ever find anything wrong with his actions. Not by himself, at least. He would simply have no basis in which to decide that he was doing something wrong because he lacks the necessary input of his senses. As Tony said, “Pain is necessary for kids to find out the difference between what’s good and what’s harmful.” This reminds me of my statements in the Individual Valuism text and article 5 that having sensations is essential in the development of values. Since Jordan can’t feel pain, he can’t associate pain with badness like the rest of us. Now think about other people that lack normal sensory input. If it is true that so-called sociopaths cannot feel empathy, it shouldn’t be surprising when they do not associate badness with harmful things happening to others. Helen Keller could not see or hear from an early age. This obviously made it difficult for her to know her environment or communicate. As the story goes, she improved considerably when her teacher was able to make her understand a symbol for water by making motions on the girl’s hand accompanied by the liquid. What if Keller could not feel anything by touch either? Then how would she communicate? How would she determine values? I’m sure neither would’ve come easily. In any case, the power of the ability to feel is very interesting. As a side note, I wonder how Jordan Dungy, growing up in a Christian household, conceptualizes Hell. I don’t imagine he would be affected by normally vivid descriptions such as fires or the “gnashing of teeth.”


Lesson 3: External values have no substance. This is the lesson of James Dungy. At 18 years old, James killed himself in December 2005. I’ll try to not go into a lot of detail here to avoid rubbing salt into the family’s wounds, but I’ll say what needs to be said. Given that Tony Dungy is publicly and devoutly Christian, I assume that he tried to instill his children with Christian values. How did that work out? Did Christian values make James fulfilled or depressed? Did Christian purpose make him think that he had something to accomplish or did he think that life was not worth living? As I like to say, if things aren’t going well, you’re probably doing something wrong. What James did wrong was to invest his values in a place outside of himself, not to mention outside of reality. When he was feeling despair, did his investment return peace and happiness or did it return nothing? Well, ask the person that found him hanging from the ceiling.