In “Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction,” my co-author (Karole Edwards) and I highlight the myriad ways that past African Americans sustained and healed one another. In dynamic case after case, African Americans “climbed in one another’s casket” of despair, identifying with each other’s pain. They then, on the basis of their Christian hope in Christ, brought hope to one another by “celebrating the empty tomb” and thus experiencing Christ’s resurrection power.
Coaching: Mentoring Men as Iron Sharpens Iron
Just a few current examples from the coaching lives of Smith and Dungy will suffice to demonstrate that these two African American coaches understand how to mentor others with biblical soul care and spiritual direction. Chicago Tribune writer, David Haugh, in his January 28, 2007, story entitled “The Lovie Connection” emphasizes how with Smith, “like mentor Dungy, being his player’s friend and counselor comes easily.”
When Bear’s player Tank Johnson lost his best friend, Willie B. Posey, in a nightclub shooting, more than anything, Johnson needed to know that he wasn’t alone. As Haugh says, “That’s when Lovie Smith picked up the phone to pick up his defensive tackle’s spirits.”
These two men of quiet strength, bonded by five years together on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ staff and by similar Christian convictions, hope that the necessary focus on their skin color doesn’t overlook a shared coaching style evident in Smith’s phone call to a troubled Johnson.
“He’s a Coach Who Listens a Lot”
As Johnson records of Smith, “He called me and said, ‘Hey, Big Guy, how are you doing? I’m going to call you every day through this process to make sure you’re OK,’” Johnson recalled. “That means a lot when you’re on pins and needles about a lot of things in your life. But it’s that kind of thing that makes Lovie different. He’s a coach who listens a lot.”
Wow! This is classic soul care. An empathic concern for how another human being is doing in the midst of a struggle. A consistency of follow-up (not just there in a crisis, but there day after day). Listening a lot.
Unfortunately, the two most negative sports writers in Chicago, Jay Mariotti of the Sun Times and Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Tribune, just never got it (and they rarely do). When Smith and the Bears stood behind Tank (not for his unwise choices or foolish behavior, but behind the person, the man), they tried to tank Smith. Morrissey falsely and foolishly accused Smith of having “no concept of right and wrong.” It is Morrissey and Mariotti who have absolutely no concept of sustaining and healing, no concept of humble empathy for another human being’s plight and pain. No concept of biblical, historical soul care and spiritual direction.
But enough about them. Back to Lovie’s love.
When Bears’ rookie safety Danieal Manning started feeling a little lost in the big city and the bigger world of an NFL starter, Smith related his own small-town Texas upbringing to the Corsicana native and helped pull him through. “Coach Lovie understood me,” Manning said. “He understands us.”Whenever Rex Grossman sought reassurance during a very trying season, Smith invited him into an office that doesn’t require appointments.“One of the first things Lovie said to me when I got here last year was he wanted to be involved with the players’ lives and wanted to know how they’re doing so he has an open-door policy,” wide receiver Rashied Davis said. “Some coaches, it’s us against the coaches. You just don’ feel that here.”
Another “Wow!” Pastors and counselors have much to learn from Lovie’s love. Understanding. An open door policy (as John Piper would say to pastors, “Brothers, we are not professionals, meaning, drop the CEO office concept and be a caring human being). Equality. Universality (we’re all in the same boat). Humility.
The Mentor of the Mentor
In Indianapolis, Colts’ players who have described similar experiences with Dungy this week feel the same way. And from whom do you think Smith adopted his mentoring style?
On January 26, 2007, another Chicago Tribune sports’ writer focused on Tony Dungy in an article entitled “Indianapolis: Strength in Sorrow.” Terry Bannon’s subtitle says it all: “Colts Band together When a Teammate Suffers Family Tragedy.”
Colts’ player Reggie Wayne lost his brother in a car accident on September 24, 2006. Who was there for Reggie? Tony Dungy, of course.
“The thing about coach Dungy is his office is always open if I ever need him,” Wayne said. “He’s never too busy for us. I always knew if I had a problem, I could go to him.” Sound familiar?
“How You Get through Problems”
“Football is lifelike, but just because our guys are on television they’re not bigger than life,” Dungy said. “They go through all the things that everyone else does, all of us do. You’re not immune to it.”
“That’s one of the things that has helped me be there and counsel our guys when they do have problems. I believe God has me here for a purpose. I have a strong Christian inner faith. That’s what drives me and I use that to help those guys.”Dungy is known as a coach who treats his players as people first, which shapes his approach to their personal lives. “I tell guys all the time they’re not immune to it, they’re going to have problems,” Dungy said. “It’s how you get through them that’s important. That’s how I was raised, and I’m glad I was raised that way.”
A third “Wow!” Always available. Human. Honest. Christian counseling. Inner faith. Driven to help others. Treating people as people. Facing problems and finding hope.
Passing the Baton of Soul Care
You read what Dungy said about where he learned his “soul care.” He was raised that way. Smith got it from Dungy, Dungy got it from his parents. His parents got their soul care philosophy and practice not from school, but from the school of hard knocks. They got it from the beautiful and powerful heritage of African American soul care.
How does one learn to help others to move “beyond the suffering?” By facing one’s own life suffering, as African Americans have, and then by living face-to-face with Christ in order to move beyond suffering to healing hope.