Pat Nolan: Hooray for Coach Dungy's Work to Connect Fathers with Their Young Sons


Legendary NFL coach Tony Dungy, the first black head coach to win a Super Bowl title, has spoken eloquently about the importance of fathers being involved in the lives of their young sons. He came to this conclusion after his first visit to a prison.

During his first year coaching in Tampa, Rev. Abe Brown invited Dungy to join him for a prison visit.

“I went on the first trip expecting to see grizzled, hard, tough older guys, and what I met were 19- and 20- and 21-year-old kids who looked like my boys,” Dungy tells of that visit. “And I remember driving home from that trip and asking Rev. Brown, ‘How do those young boys get here?’ And he told me it’s not socioeconomic. It’s not racial. It’s not education. It’s none of that. Ninety-five percent of these boys did not grow up with their dad. And that hit me.”

I think that every person who has ministered in prisons would agree.

Dungy recently won high praise for backing Florida’s Responsible Fatherhood Initiative, which establishes programs to equip fathers with resources to help them stay engaged in their children’s lives.

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The initiative provides for innovative outreach to absent fathers, including visits to barbershops and fatherhood classes. It will work with fathers to find employment, a requisite if they are to fulfill their obligation to provide for their families. For fathers making the difficult transition home from prison, it will connect them with organizations to help them navigate the maze of government bureaucracy.

The initiative will also connect fatherless boys with responsible adult mentors, maybe the closest thing the young boys will ever have to a father. How can they understand what they need to do to get and keep a job if they have no role model? The mentors will provide this important resource for young men.

The epidemic of fatherless youngsters is a major contributor to the violent crime that has turned our cities into war zones. Dungy has not only called attention to this terrible problem, but he still goes into prisons to minister to inmates — and has for decades. He is a hero for using his fame to bring attention to the plague of fatherlessness. He deserves our thanks for stepping up to address an issue that is ignored by the corporate media.

However, no good deed goes unpunished. Within hours of Dungy’s endorsement of this much-needed effort, the loony left tore into him. Left-wing kooks like Keith Olbermann, Jemele Hill and Exavier Pope were quick to attack Dungy. They called him a “fascist political prop” and a “racist apologist.” Now, call me a cynic, but I’d be willing to wager that these three have never set foot in a prison.

Is fatherlessness a major problem in the U.S.?

Critics of Dungy should be asked if they have ever personally helped an inmate or his family, held an addict as he went through the agony of going cold turkey, or mentored a young man as he left prison and tried to get back on his feet. Talk is cheap, and Dungy’s critics are all hat and no cattle.

Dungy’s response to his critics was gracious: “I spoke on behalf of a Florida bill that supports dads & families and it offended some people. 14 years ago Pres Obama said the same things almost verbatim. I’m assuming people were outraged at him too. I’m assuming people were outraged at him too. I am serving the Lord so I’ll keep supporting dads and families.”

This is the quote from Obama that Dungy mentioned: “Children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. … And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.”

Dungy and Obama have it right, and the naysayers have it all wrong. This wonderful quote from President Teddy Roosevelt comes to mind:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

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Dungy has known the “triumph of high achievement,” and he has humbly invested his time to make a difference in the lives of children who have never known their father. He is not a “cold or timid soul” and has spoken the truth boldly.

Yet it is hard to be attacked when you are doing the right thing. So please remember Dungy in your prayers and ask God to give him strength and wisdom in his ministry.

In addition, I hope you will follow his lead and go into prisons with such respected ministries as Prison Fellowship and the Aleph Institute to help transform the lives of incarcerated youngsters and walk with them after they return home. I guarantee that you will be blessed even more than your outreach to the prisoners blesses them.

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Pat Nolan is a respected leader in the national conservative movement. He served in the California state Assembly for 15 years and was Republican leader from 1984 to 1988. Under his leadership, Republicans came within five votes of removing Willie Brown. Pat received the Victims’ Advocate Award from Parents of Murdered Children. Pat founded the Nolan Center for Justice at the American Conservative Union Foundation and serves as director emeritus.