When Tony Dungy announced his retirement as head coach of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts in January, the outspoken evangelical explained his decision: "I think I've got a responsibility to be at home a little bit more, be available to my family a little bit more, and do some things to help make our country better." He added: "I don't know what that is right now, but we'll see."
If Dungy is still wondering what to do, the Obama White House has a suggestion: Join its Advisory Council for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Dungy's publicist, Todd Starowitz, confirmed Wednesday that White House officials have offered the wildly successful former coach a spot on the 25-member board. For now, Dungy is taking it under consideration.
While Dungy thinks it over, others are weighing in: The Family Research Council applauded the invitation, pointing out that the first black coach to win the Super Bowl used his celebrity status to promote causes like adoption and prison ministry-causes the faith-based council would likely consider.
Gay rights groups condemned the idea, pointing to a cause that Dungy worked against: same-sex marriage. In 2007, Dungy endorsed an Indiana ballot initiative to ban homosexual marriage in the state, and helped raise funds for groups supporting the ban. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State said Dungy's opposition to gay marriage based on his Christian faith "makes him an unlikely candidate for useful discussion of faith-based partnerships and civil rights."
Dungy is at least the second conservative evangelical invited to join the White House council. Former Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page agreed to a one-year term on the council with certain conditions: "If I feel that I am just a token conservative, then I will resign immediately and continue to voice my opinion from the outside." Dungy's appointment could add support to what Page calls his efforts to have "a voice on the inside."
Either way, the soft-spoken coach seems unlikely to back down from his biblical views, no matter how unpopular. At a 2007 dinner sponsored by the evangelical Indiana Family Institute, the devoted husband and father explained that his support for the homosexual marriage ban wasn't intended to "downgrade anyone else." "I feel like telling people when they look at this issue of same-sex marriage. . . . I'm not on anybody's side," he told the group. "I'm on the Lord's side."