When he was Colts coach, when he became a part of President George W. Bush's Council on Service and Civic Participation two years ago, Tony Dungy was required to complete a government questionnaire. The final query was: "Have you ever done anything that would embarrass the president?"
"I really had to pause and think about that question," Dungy said. "To be honest, I could have listed five million things that I have done that would have embarrassed the president, Wilbur and Cleo Dungy (his parents) and me. We tend to lose track of that sometimes. We are all sinners. We all have failures."
Dungy knows that some people will never understand why he reached out to Vick, who in 15 days will be released from prison and will spend the final month of his 23-month sentence for dogfighting charges under home confinement. But Dungy's faith and his resolve are stronger than his critics' passions, he said.
"I have gone to other prisons, visited other inmates, visited schools that people have forgotten, taken phone calls from people in trouble that meant the world, but none of those things had the celebrity that this young man has," Dungy said. "When I left football, this is something I said I wanted to do, to encourage. And I have enjoyed going to places where there is the greatest need. I've gone to visit some people who are, in many ways, a bigger story than Michael Vick. I know that some people would not understand that."
Dungy said he will not do or say anything that might jeopardize Vick's program or his release, and, thus, he will not discuss details of the visit. But having worked with Dungy for the last 28 years of his 29-year NFL coaching career, here is, in part, what I believe had to be some of Dungy's message to Vick:
What happened to you is not the end -- it has to be a beginning: Vick is 28. What will he do with the rest of his life, whether it involves football or not? Can the best of your life lie ahead? Sure it can. Dungy's message would have included his belief in Christ. That his belief is a life without Christ means no success for the richest, for the poorest, for the football player, for none.
I am a sinner, too: Dungy, no doubt, found common ground with Vick by explaining to him that no man is perfect. That some of Vick's worst critics have in some instances done things others would find as reprehensible as dogfighting, yet, those peoples' faults remain hidden. And Dungy likely reminded him that Dungy is not a saint. And might have told him a story or two to illustrate it.
There is no unforgivable sin: Dungy certainly encouraged Vick, according to Dungy's faith, that all sin is repentable and is covered under his Christian beliefs of salvation. This had to be the centerpiece of Dungy's message to Vick because it is the centerpiece of Dungy's faith, his calling, his message to any group, in any speech, at any given time. It is the foundation, the rock upon which he stands.
"It is very true that this visit is something that I wanted to do and that when the time is right, no one will have to wonder about it, I'll comment on it," Dungy said. "In my NFL life, everything was so planned out, with minicamps and the drafts and so on. But now I can make time for important things, make dates and keep them, whether it is a dance recital or a prison visit.
"And I am going to bring people encouragement. I'm going to talk to them about the power of God and about salvation. That's not so new for me. It's just new arenas."