Tony Dungy, a two-time Super Bowl Champion and Hall of Fame coach, spoke at the 50th annual March for Life in Washington D.C. on Friday, using society’s reaction to Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest as to why every life is “important to God and in God’s eyes.”
Dungy announced Thursday that he and his wife, Lauren, would be appearing in the nation’s capital for the March For Life, for the first time, “to support those unborn babies who don’t have a voice.”
In his speech, he recalled the reaction Hamlin received after suffering cardiac arrest on the field during Buffalo’s Week 17 game against the Bengals.
“It’s amazing to me that God actually used football to shine some light on the subject of life for all of us. Three weeks ago, during a game in Cincinnati, something happened that impacted our entire country. A young man Damar Hamlin of the Buffalo Bills made a routine tackle, and his heart stopped beating right on the field,” Dungy began.
“It could’ve been tragic, but something miraculous happened. The team medical staff rushed out, they got Damar’s heart started again, but you know what? That wasn’t the real miracle. The real miracle was the reaction of everyone to that.”
Hamlin, a second-year safety for the Bills, spent a week in the ICU at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center before being transferred to hospital in Buffalo, where he was later released from.
Dungy pointed to the countless thoughts and prayers that poured in for Hamlin.
“And all across the country, people started praying.”
He also specifically mentioned the moment the Bills’ players gathered on the field for a team prayer – a moment that was shared widely on social media and television broadcasts. But Dungy recalled a different reaction to a similar situation when he served as an NFL coach.
“Back when I was coaching in the 1990s, a few Christian players got together and said, ‘We want to pray after the games.’ And we actually got a memo from the NFL office saying, ‘Don’t let your players do that. If you do, you’ll be fined, because that’s not appropriate.'”
The game was temporarily postponed for over an hour before the NFL ruled it a no-contest, even with heavy implications for the playoffs.
“An unbelievable thing happened that night. A professional football game with millions of dollars of ticket money and advertising money on the line – that game was canceled. Why? Because a life was at stake, and people wanted to see that life saved,” Dungy continued.
“That should be encouraging to us, because that’s exactly why we’re here today because every day innocent lives are at stake. The only difference is they don’t belong to a famous athlete, and they’re not seen on national TV. But those lives are still important to God and in God’s eyes.”
Dungy’s appearance at the March for Life rally sparked controversy on social media, including from Dave Zirin, sports editor for “The Nation.”
“Dungy has spent years as an anti-gay bigot, while the NFL and NBC barely blink,” Zirin wrote Thursday.
“He said publicly and proudly that he would not want gay football player Michael Sam on his team. He said over a decade ago that he disagreed with the ‘lifestyle’ of Jason Collins, the first out active male gay player in the main four North American sports. This is a Dungy staple, calling being LGBT a ‘lifestyle,’ even after people have said to him repeatedly how hurtful and outdated such a description is. He simply doesn’t care.”
Dungy coached the Indianapolis Colts from 2002 to 2008 after coaching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for six seasons. As a head coach, he made the playoffs in all but three seasons.