November 04, 2009

Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Nov. 30. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer.

When Tony Dungy stepped down as coach of the Colts last January, he said he was going to spend more time with his family, which would have made everyone who heard him roll their eyes if almost anyone other than Dungy had said it. After all, how many retiring sports celebrities have made the same vow, then spent more time on Florida golf courses or Vegas nightclubs than in school carpool lines? But we believed him because, well, Tony Dungy wouldn't lie to us.

Dungy has credibility, which is about as rare a commodity as there is in sports these days. He doesn't fib and he doesn't spin, he simply lives up to his word and sticks to his principles. A man like that tends to be respected. His opinions tend to be valued. A man like that can contribute a great deal more to society than merely coaching a football team, and Dungy has spent most of 2009 proving exactly that.

He has sat with inmates in prison yards, trying to offer them hope, to help them become more than just another sad statistic. He has supported a jobs program that helps connect ex-convicts with potential employers. He published a book, Uncommon, centered around faith-based principles for life. He has counseled LeGarrette Blount, the Oregon tailback who was booted from the team in September after punching a Boise State player. He has mentored the notorious Michael Vick, helping to broker the quarterback's return to the NFL after serving 20 months in prison on charges related to a dogfighting operation.

Maybe you're not so sure that last accomplishment of Dungy's is such a good thing. Maybe you're not exactly thrilled to have Vick back in pro football. But when you heard that Dungy was going to bat for him, you at least had to wonder if maybe there was something redeemable in Vick after all, didn't you? Because after all, someone like Dungy wouldn't advocate for him unless he saw something there worth saving. Who else in sports could have helped rehabilitate Vick's image merely by associating with him? Who else has shown so much compassion for men who might have been considered lost causes? Who else has earned such trust from the public? Who else is more deserving of being named Sportsman of the Year?

You do not have to agree with all of Dungy's political views, some of which are quite conservative, to respect the man who holds them. He lends a certain dignity to everything he touches, which is why President Obama invited him to serve on an advisory council on faith-based and neighborhood partnerships, and the DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, asked him to be the organization's liaison to league management. Dungy declined both positions. "If they ask for my opinion on things I'll be glad to give it," he said. "But I'm not really looking for a full-time job."

Besides, he needs some room in his schedule for that family time with his wife and five children that he talked about. Despite his other commitments, he's also found time to make weekday trips to the zoo with one of his daughters, attend the family birthday parties he always missed because they fell during football season, and watch his son play high school football. Dungy is doing exactly what he said he would do. But then, you knew he would, didn't you?

Agree with this selection? Give us your pick for Sportsman here.

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