Monday Night Football and Forgiveness

I did some work last night while watching my Buccaneers get pummeled by the Panthers on Monday Night Football. Unfortunately, with the general public’s thirst for dirt on athletes and celebrities, many of the good works performed by these professionals goes unnoticed. This year the Bucs resigned a hometown favorite (from his previous time with the team) in Warrick Dunn. Not only is Dunn recognized as a good running back who has 12 years in the NFL, Dunn is also considered one of league’s most inspirational individuals.

While being raised in a single-parent home, his mother (the single parent and a police officer in Louisiana) was shot and killed during a robbery while he was in high school. With no other relative able to help with all the children, two days after his 18th birthday, Dunn was awarded full custody of his five younger brothers and sisters. Despite the burden placed on him at an early age, he went on to star in football at Florida St. and kept the family intact—-always providing for the needs of his younger siblings. He continued to be successful professionally in Tampa Bay and Atlanta. In 1997, he established the Warrick Dunn Foundation that has since built 81 new homes for single parents. He has made it a priority in his life to help others in need.

He recently released a book that describes his life, battles with depression, and the struggle that he went through in meeting and forgiving the convicted murderers of his mom—-now in a Louisiana prison. Writer Gary Shelton described Dunn’s 2007 visit to the prison:

Men come to The Farm for a lot of reasons, most of them evil. They come because of murder or malice, because of violence or brutality. Many of them come here to die. As for the man with the wounded soul, he had come to find peace. Warrick Dunn stood in front of the barbed wire of Angola Prison in St. Francisville, La., his emotions swirling within him. There was fresh anger and familiar pain and the twisted knot of anticipation. In some ways, he was 18 again, and once more, his heart had just been ripped from his chest.

It was Oct. 29, six weeks ago, and Dunn had come to face his demon. After all this time, Dunn had come to confront the man who murdered his mother. "It wasn't something that I wanted to do," Dunn said quietly. "It was something I needed to do." For more than an hour, Dunn talked to convicted killer Kevan Brumfield about their lives since Jan. 7, 1993, the night when Brumfield and Henri Broadway ambushed and killed police officer Betty Smothers, Dunn's mother, as she drove a grocery store manager to the bank to make a night deposit. For Dunn, now 32, it was almost half of his life ago. Still, he has never fully recovered…

"We just sat down and talked like two men," Dunn said. "It's hard to describe the emotions. We've all been through things and been hurt. We all could say, 'I wouldn't have been able to do it,' or, 'I wouldn't be strong enough to do it.' But sometimes, you don't know what you can do. That's just human nature. I've had a lot of people tell me, 'I would go crazy. I would lose my mind.' But you don't know what you would do unless you've been in my situation…I don't hate him anymore," Dunn said. "I've moved on. I'm in a better place."

I'll have to add Dunn's book to my future reading list, and learn more about his journey of forgiveness. Forgiving someone is never easy, even in the most difficult circumstances as illustrated by Dunn’s inspirational story. Fortunately, as a Christian, I believe that I have been provided with the perfect model of forgiveness displayed by Jesus Christ.

A final note on the game: Despite the consistently good play by the Buccaneers defense over the last 12 years, the game plan to beat them remains the same: establish a physical running game that features big backs mixed with speed backs running between the tackles. The Bucs have always favored undersized defensive players with lots of speed. Their strategy is to force teams into obvious passing situations--where they can rush 4 speed lineman, pressure the quarterback, and capitalize on having fast guys making plays in the zone pass coverage. When the Panthers were able to pound the running game inside, the fast guys got a little tired, and the secondary began cheating up to help with run support-—making the defense vulnerable for the big play. Hence, the Panthers had big running numbers, made several long pass completions, and easily tallied 38 points on the Bucs beloved defense.