“Touchdown Tony” Has the Solution to Reconcile a Divided People

“Touchdown Tony” Has the Solution to Reconcile a Divided People


REPORTER: Birmingham,
Alabama, was once one of the most segregated
cities in the United States. Racial tension had
been brewing for years. But added to the problem was
when the federal government forced communities
to desegregate their all white public school. The film, “Woodlawn,”
tells the story of what happened
during that time when the school’s racially
divided football team is encouraged to unite in faith. Tony Nathan played
by Caleb Castille would be the spark that
the team needed to unite the school and the community. In 1971 the real Tony
Nathan was a rising freshman when he and many other
African-American students were bussed from across
town to Woodlawn. What’s going on in your mind? What were your peers thinking
about that transition? You wonder what
they think about you, and you kind of, you know what
they think about you because of the color of your skin. Just because you’re different. REPORTER: Tony grew up
with Christian values and was taught to
treat everyone equally. My parents taught me not to
judge the book by a cover. To give everybody
the time of day. Respect them. I mean, to get respect,
you really got to earn it. REPORTER: Those values were put
to the test when Tony tried out for Woodlawn’s football team
under new head coach Tandy Gerelds. From the first day of
summer football practice, tension began brewing between
white and black players. They noticed the ability
that you had going in and, eventually, if you was
playing the same position, you was going to take them. I was looking to take the spot. To tell you the truth. I was looking to play. REPORTER: Some of the players
tried to get under Tony’s skin. What type of things were said? N word you was called
black this black that. Coon. Daily? Yeah. REPORTER: The team wasn’t very
good Tony’s freshman year. But his sophomore season he
had earned a starting job at free safety. And the player whose
position he took was white and confronted Tony
claiming it was his spot. It was then that coach Gerelds
made it clear where he stood. He said they ought
to know, this is not what you– this is my team. I do what I want to
do, so go sit down. REPORTER: The next season
Tony was moved to running back where he really began to shine. By then coach Gerelds was having
some success getting players to tolerate their teammates. The way coach Gerelds
was, OK, we hate one another true enough. Use that hatred for
something good, to go out and win football games. However, there were many
who didn’t want change. In the movie, that’s
when Hank Irwin played by Sean Aston
approached coach Gerelds and asked for permission to
address the team during summer practice. But it was actually this man,
local evangelist, Wales Goebel, who did the talking. The real Hank was
working with him. That whole experience about
him addressing the team, what actually happened? He told us about Christ
and that there was a plan in the making for us. And they were like, how
you going to mess with it? How you know, you know? And then all of a sudden,
he just said, look, you know, the plan is that you
make the commitment to Him, He’ll make a commitment to you. REPORTER: One of
the white players was the first to accept
Christ and the challenge of commitment. Tony was the second. Than practically the
entire team, one by one, went down to accept
Christ into their hearts. At the next practice,
Tony says he could feel the difference
amongst his teammates in the locker room. Once everybody got, you
know, made the commitment, it was like there was no color. Things just changed,
you was a person. REPORTER: Hank Irwin became
the school’s sports chaplain, and he convinced
Tony that he was playing for a greater purpose. I get chills now even thinking
about some of the conversations I use to have with Hank. He said, well, do
you plan for God? There’s a higher calling
that you plan for. Give it all to Him. He’ll bless you ten-fold. Things started to happening. We started winning. REPORTER: As the players
united in faith and purpose, the school and the community
began to come together in unity to support the team. Tony’s senior year,
they ended the season 9 – 1 losing to their rival
Banks High School for a playoff berth in a game
deemed the greatest game in Alabama high
school football history, with over 42,000 spectators. Shortly after, Tony was
recruited by legendary coach Paul Bear Bryant to play for
the University of Alabama. After four years in the
1978 national championship, Tony was selected by the Miami
Dolphins in the 1979 NFL draft. In nine seasons
with the Dolphins, he helped them reach
two Super Bowls. He recently released a
book entitled “Touchdown Tony–Running With a Purpose”
where he tells his story with even greater insight. He hopes readers will understand
the importance of faith in sports and the
influence one can have through a relationship
with Jesus Christ. If you believe in the
game plan that somebody gives you to execute, having
faith in Jesus Christ, to say it’s a game
plan, His game plan, you’ve got to have
faith and walk with it.

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