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

The world was reintroduced to former football player Tony Nathan in the 2015 movie, “Woodlawn.” Tony recently sat down with CBN Sports to reflect on racism, reconciliation and God. Read Transcript

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


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.




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


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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