Coaches Visits Prisoners
January 16, 2008
Visiting the prisoner
By Tim Jessen
Tony Dungy, coach of the 2007 Super Bowl winning Indianapolis Colts football team, was getting ready for his greatest test of the season the next day – a playoff game against San Diego, which his team eventually lost narrowly.
As Chaplain in the Presbytery of Ohio Valley at Putnamville Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison in Indiana, I knew that Mr. Dungy was on the visitors list for one of our young black inmates. The young man, whom I knew in the Chapel for his ability to play the organ and keyboard for a variety of services, was a member of Mr. Dungy's Church in Indianapolis. Staff members who knew of this relationship speculated from time to time about whether Coach Dungy might ever visit. As would be expected anywhere around Indiana, hundreds of staff members and many more inmates are ardent fans. But we really didn't expect it to happen.
Then, last week, we got word the Coach was coming. But late Friday afternoon, he canceled out. That was the end of it, we thought. The big game was Sunday, and surely he wouldn't have time for such an act of Christian kindness.
We were wrong again. On Saturday afternoon, While the young man he was to visit was at the chapel keyboard, word came that he had a visitor in the visiting room!
Quickly we rushed him out, and the few who knew scrambled to find some way to possibly see the famous coach. One inmate went back to his dormitory cell because the barred windows by his bed looked out on the entrance to the Visiting building.
The visit was briefer than most, but the visit was made. I talked to the young offender afterward, and in his elation, he promised he would try to get Coach to address the entire community, something our Chapel staff had been seeking.
The next day the Coach led his Colts as they experienced an extremely difficult loss, ending the team's – and all of Indiana's – playoff hopes for a repeat.
But I thought, I wonder how many of those thousands in the stands and watching across the country, fulfilled one of the demands of Matthew 25 sometime that weekend or Lord's Day, as Coach Dungy took time to do? They might have said, "But we didn't have the time...." Or, Christian commitment perhaps?
Did you feed the hungry? Give water to the thirsty? Welcome the stranger or alien? Clothe the naked? Visit the sick? Or visit the prisoner?
Like those who were blessed by the Father with eternal life, Coach Dungy would have been surprised that he was doing anything unusual. He didn't do it for any credit, any recognition, and certainly not to augment his celebrity status.
He did it, as should we all, because the young black man at the Chapel organ was "One of the least of these, his brother" and in so doing, he did it unto Christ.
By the way, the coach is African-American, something to celebrate and ponder on the occasion of the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King. Jr.
May we follow in his train – thanks be to God!
The Rev. Tim Jessen is a minister-member of the Ohio Valley Presbytery