If you play sports, you just accept that there is a certain amount, well, actually an enormous level of testosterone. I spent a lot of time in the locker room, even in a Christian high school, and remember conversations I wouldn’t repeat at the dinner table.
I was fortunate to have a Christian coach with godly character who consistently encouraged us adolescent boys to be men. That not only meant certain toughness on the field, playing through adversity and injury, and laying it all out there for the team.
It also meant being a gentleman off the field.
Now, I know that my experience isn’t typical of most sports teams, whether its high-school, college, or pro. We’ve accepted that good coaches pretty much have one thing in mind. That is to win and win at all costs. Their jobs depend on it.
So they ride their guys as hard as they can. They use whatever motivational technique works. They are crude, lewd, and loud.
So if that means degrading their guys, encouraging the worst part of masculinity, and yes, profanity, than so be it. In fact, most would say without these, you can’t win.
Enter Tony Dungy. He’s set this theory on its head, by being one of the most successful coaches of the modern era. And he’s done it all by winning the right way. If you’ve heard Tony speak or read his books, you’ll know he’s about winning, but he’s also about building character, transforming boys into men.
Today, he stands as the premier mentor in professional sports, a stark and bewildering example of character, civility, and goodness in a world of bad guys. He’s almost a throwback, a relic of the past.
Tony would tell you he’s not perfect and that his style isn’t everyone’s style. But he does seem to be the go-to guy when a pro athlete gets in trouble. Tiger might have saved money at the rehab clinic had he just visited with Coach Dungy for a while. Probably would have had better results.
Which brings up Rex Ryan. Maybe there is no more polar opposite coach than Coach Ryan. Part showman, part coach, Ryan has fired up the Jets in ways that nobody has in some years. Their fans are excited, their guys are unified, and they’re ready to win.
But Ryan is also quite vulgar. Nobody would know this except this is the year, HBO’s Hard Knocks featured them on their program. Now every practice and meeting and locker-room speech is taped. Suddenly people are tuning into football and hearing Ryan in all of his colorful language.
Tony Dungy was asked about this and said something counter-cultural. He’d rather not hear that type of language and wouldn’t work with someone who used it. To which Ryan laughingly told Tony not to judge and that he should mind his own business.
Now both of these guys might be good coaches. Both might win games. Both might teach their men some life lessons.
But young men, if you’re looking for a man to follow, I’d take the path of Tony. The world could use a few more gentlemen, a few more guys who watch their language and carry themselves with some respect.
Because one day the lights will go out on that football career and the next act begins. Life begins. And I’m guessing what Tony is teaching will stick past football.