The big story of the day in the National Football League is Michael Vick and his shot at gridiron redemption with the Philadelphia Eagles. Obviously, you can't tell Vick's story without talking about the pivotal role played by Tony Dungy, a former coach with a Superbowl ring on his finger and the respect of almost everyone in professional sports. I say almost everyone, because you can't talk about Dungy without talking about his very traditional Christian faith and some of the beliefs that go along with that.
So you can't talk about Vick right now without talking about Dungy and you can't talk about Dungy without talking about Christianity.
But, trust me, many reporters are giving it their best shot, cranking out some amazingly faith-free coverage of an event that had lots of religion in it. No religion ghosts in this one. We're dealing with real people and real quotes.
Take this Philadelphia Inquirer story, for example. That's the paper with the most coverage, for obvious reasons. So you get a story on Dungy. Kind of. There are generic notes of redemption, including some details about Philly coach Andy Reid and his family.
But. But. Well, try this:
Dungy has an unwavering desire to help people. He epitomizes calmness, even yesterday when 150-plus media members tried to ask questions as to why the Eagles would take a chance on someone with such a spotted background. He didn't claim to have a definitive answer, but, just as he had with Reid, told the truth about how far he thinks Vick has come.
"We got to sit down for about 3 hours [in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary a couple of months ago, where Vick was serving his time]. We talked about a lot of things. We talked about where he wanted to go in the future. My dad always said to me, 'Don't worry about where you are so much; where are you going to go, what are you going to do to make it better?' ..."
Uh, there's a bit more to it than that, as readers who watched the press conference will know.
What about the Los Angeles Times? There was a major Dungy and Vick story there, too. In this A1 story we read about the lessons the superstar learned in prison and there is a hook to the retired coach there, too.
What does the coach do now, as a day job?
Dungy, who ministers to inmates, vouched for Vick's character and spoke to about a dozen NFL coaches, urging them to give him a second chance. The field of interested parties dwindled to three teams -- Dungy declined to name the other two -- and a deal was struck with the Eagles, who will pay Vick $1.6 million this season with a team option for another year at $5.2 million.
"I'm proud of the Philadelphia Eagles," said Dungy, who retired from coaching in January. "I know they didn't do this as a charity measure. They feel like Mike is going to help their football team and be a weapon for them. But they also stepped out to give a man a second chance, and I think that's important."
There are other hints about faith connections in the piece, but, again, absolutely nothing specific. Dungy "ministers" to prisoners. That is all. Apparently, this was not a crucial element in Vick's return to the NFL.
However, over at the Washington Post there is a longer story that demonstrates what happens when reporters cover an event and, it seems, make a professional decision to lay out the timeline of the events, while letting the key players tell the story in their own words.
But if you do that, who knows what will end up in your newspaper. So here is the lede and a large chunk of that Post article, which certainly makes it sound like Dungy made a series of faith claims about "the walk" that is ahead for Vick, if he wants to straighten out and fly right.
On May 5, Tony Dungy walked into the visitor's room at the 22-acre U.S. Federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan., and met Michael Vick. It was not unusual for Dungy to be inside a prison. As part of his Christian outreach programs, the man who coached the Indianapolis Colts to the Super Bowl title in 2007 has long worked with young men convicted of crimes.
This time he had come at the request of Vick's attorney, Billy Martin, who was from the same home town as Dungy's wife. He wanted a mentor for Vick. Would Dungy be one? ...
Soon there would be more pilgrimages to Leavenworth from people wishing to speak to Vick, to measure his soul. Dungy, as the first, wanted to know about Vick's faith. "Where was the Lord in all of this?" Dungy recalled Friday.
Vick told him he had been a religious person before he reached the NFL but as he became a bigger and bigger star he had abandoned his religion. Now, he told Dungy, who retired as the Indianapolis head coach after this past season, he wanted to bring it back.
"That's when I felt this is a young man who is on the right direction," Dungy said.
And largely because of the respect most in the NFL have for Dungy and his judgment of people, this is where the rehabilitation of Michael Vick began.
Well now, that sounds interesting. It appears, from Dungy's perspective, that getting religion is a rather essential part of this story of a man who is seeking several different kinds of redemption. It sounds like Vick faces several different kinds of repentance, in the weeks ahead.
Cynics will ask if Vick is simply playing the Jesus card in order to get back into the NFL, with the fat paychecks that come with it. That's a valid question and it's hard to know how sincere Vick is, until events play out. But that means that, at this point, Dungy really is the story and for this legendary coach, that means this is a story rooted in repentance and redemption.
Kudos to the Post team for getting this pivotal piece of the story into the newspaper. Were other reporters at the same press conference?