Super Bowl winning coach and best-selling author Tony Dungy endured a torrent of harassment last week from a bevy of sportswriters infamous for their left-wing activism. What set them off was a combination of the black Hall of Famer's Christian faith, and his willingness to speak of it in the public square – both at the annual March for Life, and on social media.
As a brother in Christ, I'm eager to defend Dungy; but I also think it's vital to point out the attacks weren't specific to him.
Take for example what happened on the pages of the Indy Star, where the paper's shock-jock columnist Gregg Doyel unleashed a full character assassination of Dungy, accusing him of being a bigot who is driving innocent kids to commit suicide.
If that seems outrageous, it was. Deranged? Yes, that too. But for the zealotry of left-wing newsrooms, it's routine these days. The irony, of course, was that Doyel managed to produce more bile and bigotry in his singular column than Tony Dungy has produced in a lifetime.
After publishing his poison, Doyel was quite proud himself, strutting around the streets of social media like a peacock, hurling pejorative, hateful slurs against Dungy, begging for someone – anyone – to pay attention to him.
Despite his self-congratulatory, provocative arrogance, I do feel sympathy towards Doyel for two primary reasons.
First, it seems abundantly obvious from his writing that he has little to no real understanding of Jesus, Scripture, or Christianity outside of the cultural caricatures that exist. Therefore, he says foolish things without even realizing it.
Secondly, he's in a tough spot professionally. As a sports columnist for a small market newspaper, he's in a dying industry. The Indy Star is a shell of its former self. Layoffs and corporate takeovers have left it a dull and uninspired version of the same progressive storylines and perspectives Gannett media-owned operations churn out, dime a dozen, around the country. Men like Doyel are tasked with the near impossible chore of getting people to pay for a notoriously lame product.
That leads inevitably to this kind of unyielding desperation for attention. Say outlandish things, create unnecessary controversy, make herculean efforts to offend, all to generate the clicks that bring job security. It takes 300 feel-good stories about sportsmanship to generate the attention of one baseless attack on the character of a man like Dungy.
And to be clear, it was baseless.
What got Doyel worked into his comedic lather was what Dungy said in response to an anti-science bill in Minnesota that would demand schools put menstrual products in boys' bathrooms. Expressing the bewilderment of the sane, Dungy tweeted,
That's nothing. Some school districts are putting litter boxes in the school bathrooms for students who identify as cats. Very important to address every student's needs.
Sarcasm. Using absurdity to illustrate the absurd.
Though Dungy later deleted the tweet, most likely due to the litter box claims being speculative and to this point unsubstantiated, the larger principle remains true: it would be absurd to put a litter box in the boys' bathroom at school simply because a boy thought he was a cat; it would also be absurd to put menstrual products in the boys' bathroom at school simply because a boy thought he was a girl.
And that thoroughly sound, utterly logical observation sent Doyel into a tailspin of wild irrationality. He called Dungy a "bigot," said he was "g****mn cruel," labeled him "ignorant," accused him of "bullying," branded him "hateful," and grotesquely intimated without a shred of corroborating evidence that LGBT kids commit suicide because of Christians like him.
Libelous? Probably. But when you're a white liberal insulting and berating a black Christian on the pages of a Gannett-owned newspaper, those rules apparently don't apply. In fact, they even let you get away with promoting your hateful screed as an "inclusive story." Seriously.
What was particularly despicable about Doyel's grandstanding histrionics was that he conflated opposition to anti-science gender ideology with bullying-induced suicide. The slowly emerging data paints a completely different story, however – that it is the embrace and promotion of gender confusion and sexual experimentation, the very thing that Doyel and company demand, that is leading to torment and tragedy.
Besides that, having endured the heartbreaking suicide of his own son James, Tony Dungy's nationwide fatherhood initiative has pulled more at-risk young people from the brink of self-harm than Doyel could fit in his lifetime archive of cowardly hit pieces.
Still, it's important for Christians to note this is about far more than just Dungy and litter boxes. Doyel's undisciplined tabloid journalism betrayed as much. Less than half of his literary tantrum had anything to do with the coach's tweet or transgender policies in schools.
Bouncing from topics like gay marriage to suicide, from former Senator Rob Portman to the author's own superficial grasp of the Bible, it was clear Dungy was merely the USB port through which Doyel would download his external hard drive of hate.
Implying the parables of Jesus aren't about "actual life," castigating believers as "awful human being[s]" with "pious smiles," who hide underneath "First Corinthians this or Second Timothy that," declaring Christians "openly hate," "don't care enough," and make it "not safe" for LGBTQ people, Doyel simply couldn't contain the contempt he holds for those who surrender to Christ rather than the spirit of the age. And remember, this bigotry all cleared the paper's editors.
Notice also that this Indy Star-sponsored venom wasn't directed at the Westboro Baptist cult and their insulting, inflammatory, anti-Gospel conduct. No, these angry arrows of abhorrence were pointed at one of the most disarming, soft-spoken, gentle, and genial men you will ever encounter.
Christians, it simply doesn't matter how compassionately you conduct yourself to this crowd. The narrow-minded exclusivity of men like Doyel offers no refuge until you renounce your God, bow the knee, and worship their idols. It's not "respect" they demand. It's obedience.
Look, Dungy has overcome bigotry all his life – whether because of the color of his skin, because of the King who rules his heart, or in the case of a lily-white liberal at the Indy Star futilely attempting to put the black Christian in his place, perhaps a little of both.
I'm confident the coach will shake the dust from his sandals and rise above all the irrelevant noise. But that doesn't mean the rest of us have to pretend it's okay.