The League

Michael Kun

Michael Kun

Co-author of The Football Uncyclopedia. He is also the author of six other books and is a practicing attorney.

The NFL's Odd Couple


I have an odd memory from about 25 years ago. Like many memories, odd or otherwise, I am not certain that it is entirely accurate, although I have shared the memory many times over the years. If it is inaccurate, I apologize, but the point will be the same.

About 25 years ago, I was going to school in Virginia and, like many states, we celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Or, should I say, The Old Dominion sort of celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Instead, it was called, "Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert E. Lee Day."

Yes, you read that correctly. Virginia had lumped together celebrations of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and Civil War General Robert E. Lee. In case you haven't brushed up on your American history lately, Robert E. Lee was a General for the Confederacy -- the side that was in favor of slavery.

Please do not feel the need to post any comments instructing me that slavery was not the main impetus for the Civil War, or explaining any anti-slavery sentiments that Robert E. Lee (a slave owner) might have harbored. The point remains the same: combining a celebration of the life of a civil rights leader with that of a Confederate general was just plain wrong. It could only have been more wrong if Virginia were celebrating "Saul Bellow and Josef Mengele Day." (Saul Bellow = Jewish writer. Josef Megele = Nazi criminal.)

So, for years, whenever people have referenced odd couplings, I have always said, "That's not any odder than Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert E. Lee Day, is it?" Now, the NFL has its own odd couple -- all-around good guy Tony Dungy and pariah-of-the-century Michael Vick. (Note: we're still early enough in the century that someone could take that title from Michael Vick.)

Let's start with Tony Dungy. Football fans are capable of debating virtually anything, particularly the type of fan that would even read this blog entry, yet I for one cannot think of a single bad word ever being said by Tony Dungy. Ever. Oh, sure, at some point in time someone criticized some decision or other that he made when he was coaching the Bucs or the Colts, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about Tony Dungy the person.

I defy you to find a quote from a former player or teammate that is critical of Tony Dungy the person. Even the guys who Tony Dungy cut love Tony Dungy. Admit it: if you were an NFL player and you knew you were going to be cut, Tony Dungy's the guy you'd want to do it. In fact, I'll bet Tony Dungy has a way of making players feel good about being cut. I have no evidence of that. It's just a gut feeling. And I'll bet you have that same gut feeling, too. (Bill Parcells is the last guy you want to cut you. For some reason, I imagine that he finds a way to insult your family when he tells you that you're no longer on the squad. Again, gut feeling.)

At the other end of the spectrum, or about as close as you can get to the other end of that spectrum these days, you'll find Michael Vick. I am reluctant to even describe why it is that Michael Vick is the pariah that he is for fear of sparking a debate that I don't feel like sparking. You know what I mean. If you don't describe his crimes with the appropriate gravitas, you open yourself up to attack from various groups of animal lovers. If you describe his conduct too gravely, you open yourself up to attack from the at-least-he-didn't-kill-a-person-like-Donte-Stallworth-did crowd. For our purposes today, it's enough to say, simply, that Michael Vick is a pariah.

How much of a pariah? Well, the last time we saw him on a football field, he'd led the Atlanta Falcons into the playoffs. Now, only two years later, no team wants to touch him.

As hard as it is to find someone who will say anything bad about Tony Dungy, it's just as hard to find someone saying anything good about Michael Vick. Sure, every article makes a point of mentioning that he is still relatively young and very talented, but those are more facts than opinions. You just don't find many people saying that Michael Vick is a good guy, though, do you?

Well, except for one person -- Tony Dungy. That's how great a guy Tony Dungy is -- he's willing to say that Michael Vick is a good guy, a good guy who made some terrible mistake, a good guy who paid his debt to society, a good guy who wishes to change his life, a good guy who wants to redeem himself. But here's the problem: Every time Tony Dungy is quoted saying something positive about Michael Vick, it reinforces my opinion of Tony Dungy -- and does nothing to change my opinion of Michael Vick.

It takes a great guy like Tony Dungy to stick his neck out to help a pariah like Michael Vick. But, do I believe what Tony Dungy is saying? Well, I believe that Tony Dungy believes it. But do I believe that Michael Vick is sorry? Sure, but I suspect what he's sorry about is that he got caught. I'm not yet convinced that he's sorry for what he did. (In case you are wondering, I do have the sense that Donte Stallworth is sorry for what he did.)

If anyone can help Michael Vick change his life in a meaningful way, it probably is Tony Dungy. And I'm rooting for that now. Not because I particularly like Michael Vick, and not because I'd want him playing for my team. The team I root for already has a perfectly good quarterback, thank you. At least I think they do. Check back with me in a couple months.

I'm rooting for Michael Vick to change his life because I don't want him to disappoint Tony Dungy. I don't want him to embarrass Tony Dungy. I don't want him to make Tony Dungy look like a fool, because Tony Dungy is a great guy. How great a guy? So great that I'll bet he could have convinced the legislators in Virginia to do away with that whole Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert E. Lee Day nonsense.

In fact, as far as I know, he may have done so.

By Michael Kun  |  August 11, 2009; 7:38 AM ET  | Category:  Atlanta Falcons , Coaching , Fans , Indianapolis Colts , Michael Vick , NFL , Quarterbacks , Roger Goodell , Tony Dungy Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Is Dungy Too Loyal? | Next: Just Crazy Enough To Work


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Hey Kun,

Virginia started to Celebrate our Confederate heroes long before there was a MLK Day. Nothing wrong with that. Both men were Southern, both were faithful men of God. And, it would not have been any odder to have a U.S. Grant(slave holder and notable Jewish hater, see his General order 11 issued in December 1862) or Sherman(slavery supporter)Day combined with MLK Day. But, given you grasp of history, that would probably be over your head anyways.

Posted by: irish031 | August 11, 2009 10:32 AM

Michael Vick did horrible things, but it's a testament to the kind of man Dungy is to do what many are not willing to do, forgive Michael Vick and try and help him. I don't think Dungy will look like a fool even if Vick does slip into something. He's not going to be Vick's babysitter, but I know he's giving him advice and a perspective that he probably doesn't get from many other people and it'll help him.

As for the whole MLK/Robert E Lee thing, feel free to perpetuate this idea that a Confederate leader was equivalent to a Nazi eugenicist, but I don't think it's a good comparison at all. It is a coincidence for sure to celebrate them on the same day, but he's a historic Virginia figure, celebrate them both on separate days, but relegating R.E. Lee to the ash heap of history as I know you'd want to do (based on the cherry-picking comparison that was made) isn't right either.

Posted by: michigannn | August 11, 2009 12:28 PM

Irish031 and Michigannn --
Wish you'd read my entry more closely. Coincidence or not, lumping Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert E. Lee together is, at best, odd. At worst, stupid and insensitive. And I didn't compare Lee to a Nazi -- I said that lumping Bellow and Mengele together would be worse than lumping King and Lee together.
Best wishes,
Michael Kun

Posted by: MichaelKun | August 11, 2009 2:35 PM

Good post, Mike. What a lot of people don't know is that Bellow and Mengele actually played chess by mail for years and years. Martin Bormann had a checkers by mail game going with Larry Storch but it didn't last long at all.

Posted by: howbo | August 11, 2009 3:09 PM

Good post, but I'm confused about why this and most others are so confused about this pairing. "Dungy=good guy, Vick=bad, what gives?"

It's really not religious rocket science... the whole premise of Christianity is that we're all sinners, and even the worst can find help and hope. As the Lord said, "It's not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick."

Vick is sick, as we all are in our own way. For a devout believer like Dungy to mentor Vick not only isn't odd, but perfectly consistent with his convictions. The odd thing would be for Dungy to write Vick off.

Posted by: danroth777 | August 12, 2009 1:57 AM

Actually, the holiday was Lee-Jackson-King Day -- not Michael Jackson but Stonewall Jackson, Confederate Army general. (It was originally Lee-Jackson Day before King was shoehorned in there with the strange bedfellows.) Now Virginia has two separate holidays three days apart: Lee-Jackson Day and MLK Day.

Posted by: barbrudolph | August 12, 2009 6:50 AM

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