As Tony Dungy took the stage at Messiah College on April 24, he admitted to his initial curiosity upon receiving an invitation to speak from Messiah. “I read the letter and thought, why did we get invited to a school without a football team?” he joked, and then joined the audience in their laughter.
However, despite his many years as a player and coach in the NFL, Dungy’s message wasn’t exclusive to a locker room full of football players. He spoke to all young student athletes, and his advice actually discouraged a mindset confined to the locker room.
“Make sure you develop as a total person,” Dungy said. He referenced his experience in the NFL, as both a player and a Super Bowl-winning head coach, where he witnessed the tragedy of football players devoting themselves entirely to the game.
He saw that without balance, there’s no room for development, and he evidenced his claim with staggering statistics about the percentages of high-salary football players who file for bankruptcy, unemployment or divorce.
“The issue today with how we are training our athletes is that we are allowing them to become one-dimensional,” Dungy said. Instead, he encouraged student athletes to develop in four areas: academically, athletically, socially and spiritually—quickly adding that his list was in alphabetical order, not in order of importance.
Dungy shared his shock with recent news articles chronicling the difficulty for college graduates to find a job. “The idea really arrested me: It’s not enough to go to school. You must develop academically,” he said.
Dungy quickly rattled off a list of the great life lessons taught by sports: how to compete, that you don’t win every single game, teamwork and sacrifice. “Being on a team teaches you the important lesson of doing things you don’t want to do for the sake of the team, or of not doing things that you want to do because it won’t benefit the team,” he said.
Students in the audience smiled when he relayed the importance of social development. “College is supposed to be a fun time. Don’t be so focused that you forget that part of it,” he said.
Finally, he spoke on the area that he felt is most often neglected: spiritual development. Dungy shared that although he grew up in a Christian home and accepted Christ at a young age, he often sidelined spiritual development as a young athlete. He was distracted by his career development and driven by goals oriented around football or graduation.
In 1977, meeting a group of Christian athletes reshaped his desires, he said: “These players were strong veteran athletes and Christian men, and they showed me what it was like to live every single day of life in reflection of Matthew 28.”
This became Dungy’s challenge to student athletes: to live out the Christian commission to go out and make disciples both near and far. “First, Christ tells us to go to Jerusalem. That’s home base, the locker room. And sometimes that’s the hardest place,” Dungy said. He emphasized then going beyond the locker room to represent Christ to fellow students on campus, to opponents on the field and “to the ends of the earth”— off campus and off the field.
Dungy shared stories of how several professional athletes have responded to this challenge, quoting Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn as his favorite players.
He concluded by once again encouraging student athletes to embrace a four-way education and develop as a total person, equipped to live a life of leadership and service for Christ. “That’s the challenge, but I know you’re up to it,” Dungy said.
The evening with Tony and Lauren Dungy was in celebration of Messiah College’s 50th year of athletics.
By Mary-Grace MacNeil `13.