Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Tony Dungy, Meet Jimmy Carter and Jesse Jackson?

Recently it was published that former dog-killer Michael Vick sat down with Tony Dungy for a meeting. It was portrayed as a feel-good story; the now-repentant criminal sitting down with the NFL's closest contact to the Man Upstairs. And certainly, it seems as if Tony Dungy would have some good things to say to Michael Vick. Who knows? Maybe this will help Vick grow in many ways. Vick was said to be a rather shy man, not ready to deal with all the pressures of fame. Perhaps this is just what he needs.

However, I'm more worried about Tony Dungy than Michael Vick. Tony, are you sure you know what you're getting into? How did the news media find out about this? At first, helping troubled players that the system has failed sounds like a very noble pursuit. What does a white-collar worker like Roger Goodell know about the unique pressures of being an athlete in football-mad America?

But in reality, this is a slippery slope. It's just like what has happened with Jimmy Carter and Jesse Jackson. Once, both were respected politicians and community leaders. If they decided to help someone, it was seen as a great honor. "Jimmy's going to help the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the Middle East!" or "Jesse will draw attention to racism in our town!"

But over time, both became relentless publicity seekers. It no longer seemed to be as much about the cause as it did about the brand. Carter ended up supporting dictators and being rumored to be overly influenced by Saudi donations. Jackson ended up in various scandals, both confirmed and unconfirmed. They both still are respected in some circles, but they've lost the national-level respect and support they once held. And it's entirely because they overstretched their boundaries and tried to do too much.

I do believe Dungy truly wants to help athletes. But I can't help but be concerned that we'll see athletes using the "Dungy walk of shame" as a photo op.
(Scene opens)
Joe Athlete walks up to Dungy's house in Tampa as cameras roll, surrounded by two members of his posse and smiling to the press.
(2 hours later)
Joe Athlete walks back, alone, crying into a handkerchief. He promises he'll change his evil ways. Goodell drops two games off his suspension. Endorsements roll in again.
(6 weeks later)

I wish Tony the best in his efforts. But I still can't help but worry that this will have unintended consequences.