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Tony Dungy inspires students at Black History Month event

Ashley Morales

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Pro Football Hall of Famer and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ first Black head coach Tony Dungy gave a Black History Month speech to students at Boca Ciega High School Thursday. Photos: Ashley Morales.

As Black History Month continues to be celebrated across the United States, Pro Football Hall of Famer and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ first black head coach Tony Dungy shared his life’s lessons and winning principles Thursday with students at Boca Ciega High School (BCHS).

Dungy, who made history as the first African American head football coach to win a Super Bowl Championship and be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is now an analyst for NBC’s Football Night in America. Before his storied coaching career, Dungy played for the Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants. He was head coach of the Bucs from 1996-2001, bringing new success to a team that was regarded as one of the National Football League’s worst at the time.

Thursday afternoon, he delivered a motivational speech to BCHS freshmen and student athletes. Dungy drew from his career and life story, offering insights into Black history and sharing his experiences in leadership and mentorship. 

“I’ve never actually gotten to talk to somebody of his caliber. For me, it was a big thing. I’m trying to pursue professional basketball, but to hear from somebody in the football world was really cool,” said Jordan Naylor, a senior at Boca Ciega High School, who attended Tony Dungy’s presentation Thursday and got to meet the Pro Football Hall of Famer.

“My hope is to inspire some of the kids to look back and see the sacrifices that some people have made to give them an opportunity and to encourage our young people to take advantage of the opportunities they have,” Dungy said. “I grew up watching the desegregation of the public schools, and there were no African American football players in the Southeastern Conference. After seeing things change and seeing opportunities come, my message is to inspire people to don’t be put in a box by even where they are now because who knows where things are going to be 20 years from now. Be ready to take advantage of it.”

With a legacy that includes a place in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Ring of Honor, Dungy is today recognized for his commitment to mentoring youth and co-authoring several books that delve into the intersection of faith, family and athletics.

The event at Boca Ciega High School presented a unique opportunity for students to engage with a football legend and a trailblazer in inclusion and equality in the sports world and beyond.

“For us to learn and get to hear from people that went through [desegregation], that’s major. Firsthand experiences are the best way to know what’s going on,” said Jordan Naylor, a senior at BCHS. “ I feel we all need to learn from what their setbacks were, but also what their positives were and what they were able to use to move forward. For our generation, I think we should look at what they did and just keep continuing and building on that and really use it to our advantage.”

Dungy, a father of 11, said he was first asked to speak at his children’s high school in Tampa. In addition to his personal story and experiences, Dungy (who grew up in Michigan) began researching sports history in Tampa and the state of Florida. 

Along with Black history and lessons learned from his storied football and coaching career, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Tony Dungy shared moments of levity in his speech to students at Boca Ciega High School Thursday, noting: “That’s when you know you’ve made it: when you’re the answer to a question on ‘Jeopardy.’”

“I was surprised at how recent the history really is. The integration actually started when I was in high school, and had I lived in Tampa as a high school student, I would not have been able to go to any school in Tampa. I could not believe it,” Dungy said. “So the more I started digging and the more research I did, I found out I knew some of these people who had made these milestones. It became more than a project for the kids. Now, this is something that I need to learn and share.”

As Black History Month serves as a time to honor the achievements and contributions of African Americans throughout history, Dungy’s visit to Boca Ciega High School serves as an example of how students of all backgrounds can draw inspiration about the significance of Black history from one of the most influential figures in the world of professional football. By sharing his personal journey and the principles that have guided his success, Dungy encouraged students to pursue their dreams with determination and resilience.

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