DALLAS (CHRISTIAN EXAMINER) — NFL Network began airing a new installment of its "A Football Life" series this month, featuring former Hall of Fame Chicago Bears middle linebacker and former NFL coach, Mike Singletary.
It shows everything you might expect from the man who was a ten-time Pro-Bowl selection and member of the NFL's 1980 All-Decade Team — the big hits, the big eyes and the big intensity on the field.
But it also shows a few things you might not expect about him off the field — his adult children describing a gentle giant who dances and sings around the house, a calm gaze and a sensitive man who listens to the theme song from "On Golden Pond" while reflecting about where he has been.
Early on in the documentary, Singletary talks about his difficult home life as the youngest of ten siblings who grew up poor on the outskirts of Houston. He says his parents fought all the time, and his home life was worse than dysfunctional.
"My father was a Pentecostal pastor, so all of my sisters and brothers couldn't wear shorts, they couldn't participate in athletics, they couldn't do anything because everything was a distraction from the faith," Singletary says in the piece.
That was difficult for Singletary to accept and he says he spent a lot of time judging his dad. When his parents were gone, he was drawn to watching the Dallas Cowboys on television, with the sound turned down low. And it birthed a desire in him to play the game.
Singletary's parents eventually split when he was 12 years old. It was the latest blow to an already difficult childhood. Singletary's brother, Dale, died in his sleep when Mike was just five years old. And seven years later, his brother, Grady, was killed by a drunk driver. It was all too much for Singletary to bear and he could feel himself shutting down, pulling away — accepting mediocrity from himself.
After his parents divorced, his mom challenged him to be the man of the house. That same day, he went into his room and wrote out what he calls his vision statement: to get a scholarship to college, get his degree, become an All-American football player, get drafted by the NFL, become an All-Pro, go to the Super Bowl, buy his mom a house and own his own business.
He began to check off his list, one by one. He was the first of his siblings who was allowed to play sports, and he eventually parlayed that opportunity into a spot in the NFL Hall of Fame in 1998.
Unfortunately, the episode never circles back to his Christian upbringing or how his own faith influenced him — especially after his playing career. In an interview with The 700 Club, while he was coaching the 49ers, he says he felt empty inside after the Bears won the Super Bowl in 1985.
"I just remember, one day, breaking down," he says in the interview. "I remember saying, 'Lord, I'm supposed to be Your son, and You don't talk to me, use me. You don't do anything. I don't understand this.' In my spirit, I heard two things. One was 'I want to use you, but there are some things that you gotta clean up first.' The second thing that I had to do [was] forgive my father."
The "Chicago Now" blog, operated by "The Chicago Tribune," posted several quotes from Singletary that are taken from a 2010 Father's Day speech he gave at Willow Creek Community Church, explaining how he felt about his father.
"I just didn't like him. I didn't like being around him. I didn't like the way he did things. I really didn't like the way he treated Mom."
But he forgave him anyway.
"What people don't understand about forgiveness is that you're the one that's in prison," Singletary says in The 700 Club interview. "You're the one that's going to be hurting. When I did that, the Lord began to change my life."
In the end, "A Football Life" chronicles Singletary's football journey. And it shows him enjoying family life, listening to the sights and sounds of family around the dinner table and outside playing basketball. And it reveals a gentler side to him that most fans probably didn't know existed. It just doesn't tell us the driving force behind it all.
NFL Network plans to rebroadcast this episode Saturday, Nov. 28 at 10 p.m.