Tony Dungy, the first black coach ever to win a Super Bowl, might have escaped notice this week had he merely supported Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s “Responsible Fatherhood Initiative.” His real sin was to explain why.
Dungy, a Christian father of eleven, recounted a conversation he had years back with the Rev. Abe Brown about Brown’s prison ministry. At Brown’s request, Dungy accompanied him to prison. Expecting to find hardened criminals, Dungy found instead “19- and 20- and 21-year-old kids who looked like my boys.” When Dungy asked what accounted for the young men’s incarceration, Brown told him, “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.”
Said Dungy, “That hit me.” Predictably, Dungy’s truth-telling stirred the woke beehive. “Dungy standing there cackling,” tweeted former ESPN commentator Keith Olbermann, “a fascist political prop.”
“Fathers are extremely important, but yeah,” tweeted Jemele Hill, also formerly with ESPN, “that ain’t how this works. If a father is in the home and can’t find a job, then what?”
Deadspin, which comically positions itself as “sports news without fear, favor, or compromise,” headlined its article on the DeSantis initiative, “Tony Dungy is constantly used as a prop by bigots.” Reporter Carron Phillips could find little to fault in the initiative itself but took offense that Dungy would appear with DeSantis who, in his unbiased opinion, had made Florida “arguably the worst state in the nation.”
Undaunted, Dungy fired back exactly as warranted. “2 days ago I spoke on behalf of a Florida bill that supports dads & families and it offended some people,” tweeted Dungy. “14 yrs ago Pres Obama said the same things almost verbatim. I’m assuming people were outraged at him too.” Added Dungy defiantly, “I am serving the Lord so I’ll keep supporting dads and families.”
In the tweet, Dungy quoted Obama’s comments from 2008, underlining the words that confirmed the Rev. Brown’s thesis. “We know the statistics,” said Obama, “that 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.”
There is much more to this story. Ideally, someone else of authority in the black community will tell it. In fact, Obama made this speech on Father’s Day 2008, while veering toward the Christian center after Hillary had dropped out of the presidential race. The setting was the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago. “Here at Apostolic,” said Obama, after quoting from the Sermon on the Mount, “you are blessed to worship in a house that has been founded on the rock of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.”
“Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important,” Obama continued. “And we are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation.” Obama spoke here from the heart. More than any previous presidential memoir, his recent memoir, A Promised Land, is a tribute to the joys and responsibilities of fatherhood. Would that all children in America could grow up with the love and support Malia and Sasha have enjoyed. Far too many have not. Obama knew this.
“But if we are honest with ourselves,” Obama continued, “we’ll admit that what too many fathers also are is missing—missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.” Obama proceeded to explain the consequences of fatherlessness in words that could have come from Tony Dungy.
“You and I know how true this is in the African-American community,” said Obama. “We know that more than half of all black children live in single-parent households, a number that has doubled—doubled—since we were children. We know the statistics—that 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.”
Here, Obama correctly identified family breakdown—not racism, not police brutality, not even the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow—as the reason America’s inner cities have become the most dangerous and dysfunctional in the developed world. This breakdown, he strongly implied, was a byproduct of the modern welfare state. Just as pointedly, Obama acknowledged that the problem was getting worse, exponentially worse.
This was a message the progressive left was no more eager to hear then than now. Chicago’s most prominent baby daddy, Jesse Jackson, let Obama know how unwelcome was his truth-telling. Three weeks after Father’s Day, Jackson was “overheard” talking to another black guest on a hot mic at the Fox News studio. The cynic suspects that Jackson wanted his message to be heard, and he knew that at Fox would someone think to leak it. If so, he got his way.
Said Jackson, “See, Barack been, um, talking down to black people on this faith-based—I wanna cut his nuts out.” Here Jackson made a sharp slicing motion with his hands and continued, “Barack—he’s talking down to black people—telling n*****s how to behave.” (Jackson, I should clarify, did not speak in asterisks.) Jackson later apologized but without even feigning sincerity. Obama seems to have gotten the message. From that day forward, Jackson’s weary, self-destructive wokism carried the day as it had since he assumed leadership of the flailing civil rights movement forty years prior. Obama never spoke meaningfully about fatherhood again.
He had plenty of opportunities. In 2012, Obama might have recounted how paternal abandonment had turned Trayvon Martin from a promising student into a drugged and angry street fighter. Instead, Obama identified his fate with Trayvon’s. George Zimmerman’s rightful acquittal in Trayvon’s death led directly to the formation of Black Lives Matter.
A year after the trial, Obama identified with Ferguson’s deeply troubled Michael Brown, a wayward young man whose home life made even Trayvon’s seem structured. The result of the BLM-inspired riots that followed Brown’s death was what criminologists call the “Ferguson Effect”: the police withdraw, the gangs fill the void, and black people die in the streets. Thousands of them.
This is what Obama wrought. Dungy peeled back the first layer of the onion. Someone needs to keep peeling.
Photo credit: Erik Drost CC BY 2.0 license
To learn more about Jack Cashill’s most recent book, Barack Obama’s Promised Land: Deplorables Need Not Apply, please see www.cashill.com.