Exclusive: Former NFL Coach Tony Dungy Invited to Join White House Faith Council

The invitation is likely to draw praise from evangelicals but criticism from gay rights activists.

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The White House has invited recently retired NFL Coach Tony Dungy, whose outspoken Christian faith fueled his 2007 support for a gay marriage ban and has won accolades from evangelical leaders, to join its Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, U.S. News has learned. The invitation is likely to draw praise from conservative evangelical groups and criticism from liberals and gay rights activists.

Dungy has long been active with evangelical Christian charities like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Prison Crusade Ministry, along with other nonprofit groups, including Big Brothers Big Sisters and the United Way. Leading the Indianapolis Colts in 2007, he became the first black coach to win the Super Bowl.

The White House press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Officials with the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships would not confirm the invitation to Dungy, but his publicist said rumors of the invitation in Washington were true. "I can confirm that Tony was contacted by the advisory council and asked to join," said Todd Starowitz, a publicist at Dungy's book publisher, in an E-mail message this morning. "He has yet to make a decision if he will accept the offer."

The White House is expected to announce the final 10 members of its faith council this week. It had announced 15 members of the council when it unveiled its Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships in February.

The soft-spoken Dungy sparked controversy in 2007 by endorsing an Indiana ballot initiative to ban gay marriage and similar legal arrangements for gay couples. "I feel like telling people when they look at this issue of same-sex marriage . . . I'm not on anybody's side," Dungy said at a 2007 banquet sponsored by the Indiana Family Institute, a conservative Christian group associated with Focus on the Family. "I'm on the Lord's side."

At the event, Dungy said he "embraced" the Indiana Family Institute's support for the gay marriage ban. "IFI is saying what the Lord says," Dungy said, accepting the group's Friend of the Family Award. "You can take that and you can make the decision on which way you want to be."

"We're not trying to downgrade anyone else," Dungy added. "But we're trying to promote the family—family values the Lord's way."

Dungy has often cited his Christian faith's central role in his life, including in his bestselling 2007 book Quiet Stren g th. On the night of his 2007 Super Bowl victory, Dungy said that he was most proud of being one of the "Christian coaches showing that you can win doing it the Lord's way."

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