Former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy played college football at the University of Minnesota. Later, he was the defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings for four seasons.
The Super Bowl champion coach still feels a connection with Minneapolis, a city that helped launch his Hall of Fame career. As the city has become the center of the nation's attention this week following the death of George Floyd and the subsequent street protests, Dungy has looked on with conflicting emotions.
“It's tough, my heart is just breaking right now,” Dungy said. “It's just hard to watch this. You see people who are frustrated, they're upset. Maybe not handling things in the best way, but they're very frustrated and they've seen this kind of cycle. We've got to do something to not only give them hope, but to restore love and respect to everybody and that's what I'm praying for.”
Dungy, who coached the Colts from 2002 to 2008 and led the team to victory in Super Bowl XLI over the Chicago Bears before starting a new career as an analyst on NBC's “Football Night in America,” made his comments Friday on “Lunch Talk Live,” the television show hosted by his NBC colleague Mike Tirico. Dungy opened up about his thoughts on the protests, the role of athletes in times of crisis and relations between police and the black community.
The former coach and player expressed sadness at some of the destruction of businesses in Minneapolis that has followed in the wake of the protests. He remembered driving through a hard-hit neighborhood in south Minneapolis “hundreds of times.”
“There's a lot of minority community leaders, there's minority businesses, and to see that area just get taken down like this, it's very sad,” Dungy said. “So, how do you get your voice heard? How do you express your feelings? How do you come up with solutions and do it in a way that moves forward? That's the frustrating thing, but that's what we have to come up with. That's what people, I think, have to understand. My dad used to tell me all the time, 'What are you going to do to make it better?'
“It does get frustrating, there's no question about it, but frustration can't be the driving emotion.”
The protests in Minneapolis, which Friday spread to Fort Wayne, Chicago, Atlanta, Washington, Houston and other cities across the country, came in the wake of Floyd's death during a confrontation with Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, who was captured on video kneeling on Floyd's neck as Floyd said “I can't breathe.” Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Dungy, a Tampa, Florida, resident, noted that he has friends on the police force in Tampa and his uncle was the assistant chief of police in Detroit in the 1960s and 1970s. He acknowledged the pain the protesters are feeling but urged them to come up with peaceful solutions that don't involve scapegoating and making a blanket statement about all police.
“We have to have these voices heard, but we also have to do it in a respectful way,” he said. “I know we can't point a finger at every single policeman.
“We have to look at individual cases, and we have to figure out a way that we can get some response and some satisfaction to the families of George Floyd and to the people who are saying, 'No one hears our voice.'”
When it comes to the people who believe their voices are not being heard, Dungy believes athletes and coaches have a role to play in amplifying them and their perspectives. Doing so is a responsibility he learned early in his NFL career and he said he has been heartened to see players from the league speak out in the last several days as the protests have become national news.
“I think we do have a responsibility,” Dungy said. “I know when I came to the Steelers (in 1977 as a player), Mr. (Art) Rooney, our owner, he talked about not just playing for the Steelers, but being part of the community. Being part of the community means stepping up at times when we need. Yes, it means community service, but sometimes it can be speaking up and saying, 'You know what people, we need to stay calm. We need to stay peaceful.'
“Leadership – we need to listen to these voices. I saw a tweet from (Eagles tight end) Zach Ertz, I saw one from (Eagles quarterback) Carson Wentz, I've seen one from (Texans defensive lineman) J.J. Watt. Guys saying, 'Hey, we have a voice.' And that's awesome. You applaud that. That's what these guys, to me, were doing. ... We need to be a voice for those who may not have as strong a voice as we do. I think that's very appropriate for our sports figures.”