On Sunday I taught the lesson in Priesthood, and I taught a make-up lesson from the JS manual, the chapter on Charity. One of the segments in that lesson has Joseph Smith referring to 1 Corinthians 13, which I think is the best exposition on charity to be found in the scriptures. During that discussion, one of the members of the quorum made the remark “If it’s easy, it’s not charity”, in response to Paul’s challenging verses in that chapter, and at that point, I decided to steer the lesson in the direction of football- I freely confess that at this time of year, I have a hard time thinking about anything but football when I’m in Church.
For those of you who don’t follow football- stay with me while I explain this. Michael Vick was a football player for the Atlanta Falcons, and at one point was the highest-paid player in the game. A few years ago, he was arrested on charges of financing and helping to run a dogfighting ring, where dogs are bred and tortured to fight while their owners bet on the outcome. The indictment against Michael Vick was horrifying to read, and he ended up pleading guilty and was sent to federal prison. This was the biggest story in sports, as it was the biggest, fastest fall of a career that any of us had ever seen. Many people, including myself, believed that Michael Vick’s image was beyond repair; he would serve his time, fall into obscurity, and never play a down of football in the NFL again.
A couple of weeks ago, Michael Vick’s time in prison was nearing an end as he was simultaneously working through bankruptcy proceedings. Those of us who follow football were speculating on what Michael would do next, but I would guess that most of us doubted he would never be able to return to football given the heinous nature of his crime.
As I followed the news reports and commentary, all of my feelings on the matter changed with the mention of one name: Tony Dungy. Tony is the former coach of the Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he is a man who spent his offseason free time helping to run a Christian prison fellowship program, going frightening places to reach out to people in prison who society has cast off and forgotten, and teach them very basic life skills in the context of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is what Tony Dungy has spent his years doing off the field; on the field, he has been a soft-spoken, kind-hearted coach who has gotten phenomenal levels of performance from his NFL teams without the yelling, cussing, and nastiness that characterize so many coaches in sports. His life is a rebuke to cynics like me. If there is a saint in the world of sports, it is Tony Dungy. In terms of people I admire, who I think exemplify the Gospel lived the way it should be, I rank him right up with my hero, Spencer W. Kimball.
When I heard the news that Michael Vick was being released from prison, I did not see any way he could redeem himself to the point that he would be able to play football, until I heard a commentator on the radio say “We don’t know if Michael Vick truly changed in prison, but one thing we do know is that Tony Dungy has been working with him.”
Instantly, like a reboot to my moral reasoning, I could see the possibility of Michael Vick returning to football.
Last week, the Philadelphia Eagles’ LDS coach, Andy Reid, announced that the Eagles, a team known for valuing character and team players, were going to be the team to give Michael Vick a second chance at football and in life. Coach Reid mentioned that he had not only interviewed Michael Vick for this new job, but also Tony Dungy. Coach Dungy, bringing the strength of his moral authority, recommended Michael Vick’s reinstatement to football and his placement with the always-prolific Eagles, and with Coach Dungy seated at the table in the press conference, I did not feel I could retain resentment towards Michael Vick for his horrifying sin.
The power and glory of godliness is spread out on a broad principle to throw out the mantle of charity. God does not look on sin with allowance, but when men have sinned, there must be allowance made for them. â€¦ The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs. â€¦
As we talked about this in quorum, I think we were reminded of our own need for a Mediator whose strength is sufficient to enable us to go places where we lack the moral credibility to go, in this life and the next, the way Tony Dungy enables the severely-damaged Michael Vick to go and be in the company of perennial contenders. This wasn’t the only time I’ve cried talking about football, just the first time it’s happened in Church.