Tebow or Not Tebow?

What does our national reaction to Tim Tebow's faith tell us about ourselves?

Let me start this blog of by admitting that I kind of like Tim Tebow, and that my admiration would perhaps run deeper had he not attended and played for the University of Florida. And let me also say that by his association with that particular penitentiary – uh, university – Tim Tebow proves that he is, indeed, no saint.

But that’s just the Georgia Bulldawg in me talking.

Collegiate allegiances aside, I like Tim Tebow. I think he’s a neat kid who’s trying to do something that very few people have ever managed, A.C. Green excepted: live a pious life as a professional athlete.

In case you don’t remember A.C. Green, that’s okay – he doesn’t remember you either. But he was a professional basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers, a teammate of Magic Johnson and the Showtime gang, and was more famous for his public declaration of his virginity than his basketball. Green, on a team whose exploits were as prolific off the court as on it, abstained from the many opportunities afforded a pro athlete because of his religious convictions.

Tim Tebow is trying to walk the same tightrope. Only with Tebow, it’s 4,000 feet higher in the air and he’s got people trying to cut the rope out from under him.

You see, Tebow isn’t just public with his faith in Jesus Christ – it’s the defining force in his life. He starts every post-game press conference with a shout out to the Lord, and he brings his faith into every interview. For many, he’s become a folk hero. For others, he’s a proselyte who should just shut up.

And that’s just among us Christians.

Listening to the radio only yesterday, I heard Mike Bell, a local sports talk host on 790 The Zone, say that Tebow needed to keep his religion out of his football. Bell pointed to Tebow’s practice of kneeling at the beginning and end of games – the now ubiquitous Tebowing – as an obnoxious intrusion on the games themselves.

“Like God really gives a crap about a football game,” Bell said.

His partner, David Archer, rebutted Bell by saying that Tebow has made it known that he doesn’t pray for victory or divine intervention in the outcome of games, but instead that the men involved in the competition will play with honor and without injury.

“And from talking to him,” and here it should be noted that Archer is not just a sports talk host, he’s also color analyst for the Atlanta Falcons radio broadcasts and a former NFL quarterback, “he’s sincere with that. He really is praying for every guy to come off that field okay.”

I appreciated the exchange. I could see Bell’s point – he doesn’t want to have someones religion shoved down his throat. Personally, I felt the same way when Mahmoud Abdul Rauf refused to stand for the national anthem because he’s a Muslim. Rauf had every right to practice his faith as he saw fit, and for him, not standing during the anthem was devotion to Allah. I remember, at the time, being disgusted by his logic and turned off to his religion, and a great many people felt the same way – public backlash against Rauf was strong and swift.

And that was just one incident.

Tebow’s faith is out there non-stop, in part because the kid just lives that way, and in part because the national media (cough-ESPN-cough) is in love with him in a way that should almost require a restraining order. We’ve been kind of force-fed Tebow for the last five months because he’s seen as a compelling story, and part of that narrative is his faith. The media doesn’t really home in on it – at least not in a way that makes them as proselyting as Tebow – but by giving him so much air time, Tebow gets countless opportunities to express his beliefs to the viewing public. And for many people that just gets old.

It’s haranguing. It’s pedantic. It’s offensive. It’s another example of the Right Wing-Nuts trying to turn this nation into a theocracy where no one but the faithful get the basic rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

Maybe. If the shoe were on the other foot, if – say – it were a Muslim or a Buddhist or a Moonie athlete getting all the press, I might feel more outrage.

But I doubt it. From every account I’ve read about Tebow, it’s not some cynical masterplan. He would live this way with or without cameras. If he had been really, really gifted at accounting instead of football, he would have prayed over tax returns or statements. If he had been a chef, he would have said the blessing over each meal he served up. He would do this because it’s his sincere belief and it’s an inextricable part of who he is.

Actually, it’s not part of who he is. It is who he is. That’s why it always comes out.

As Christians, that’s the way we’re supposed to be. We shouldn’t have to concoct systems, programs or other subterfuges in an attempt to share the Gospel – it should just be who we are, and come out of us genuinely and naturally. The fact that it doesn’t, that we all too often do come across as forced and manufactured when speaking about our faith, makes Tebow that much more of an intriguing figure because he is the genuine article.

I know a lot of people have adopted the “wait and see” strategy with Tebow – that eventually he’ll do or say something stupid that will validate the cynical among us for not believing in him. Maybe so – he is human after all. But the fact that he has weathered such intense scrutiny – for his faith, his football, and just being himself – without a moral failing coming to light just adds to the mystique.

Tebow will eventually mess up. Not because he’s a phony but because he’s a human being. But even in his mistakes, he’ll continue to be a polarizing figure, but it won’t be because of his faith.

It will be because he forces us to look at our own.

6 thoughts on “Tebow or Not Tebow?

  1. As a former 790 The Zone employee, I can also add that Mike Bell is a former FSU student (as am I as well), and I can admit that Tebow handled the sudden success of the last few months quite well. I’d say he handled it much better than someone like Cam Newton would have if it had been him getting round-the-clock coverage.

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    1. Sean – thanks for the read and the comment. I can’t say how Cam Newton would’ve handled the spotlight that Tebow’s been getting (though if he keeps playing like he did this year, we’ll find out soon enough), but I will say that I think Tebow’s handled it well.

      I mentioned Arch and Bell’s conversation (admittedly the only part of the show I got to hear) only because it got me thinking about the whole Tebow phenomenon and how it always leads to a discussion of beliefs. I think Mike was fair in his treatment of the kid, and I appreciated Arch’s response. It was a good segment, and part of why I try to tune in to those guys.

      What show did you work on at 790, and where are you now?

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      1. I worked on 790thezone.com (and did all of their Twitter/Facebook stuff) and covered GT Football as a beat writer of sorts in the 2010 season. I do content for weather.com now.

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      2. (I do breslinsports.com to stay connected to the sports world and keep my writing going, even though I usually write at my job.)

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  2. Interesting post Jason, however I must disagree with a few elements, specifically your assertation that Tebow “comes across” as forcing his faith onto others.

    Many of us will remember the Super Bowl commericals from 2010 where Tebow addressed the nation (so to speak) regarding his stance on abortion and human rights. While my issue is no so much with the message itself, I do take issue that Tebow agreed to make his message know in such a manner. If anything, that certainly does not seem to suggest that he was “coming across” in a particular manner; he was loud and clear.

    Another example of Tebow’s questionable belief system was seen in his reluctance to sign on the to NFL-supported “It Gets Better” project aimed at protecting gay rights. This objectivity undoubtedly derives from Tebow’s “Focus on the Family” and Evangelical Christian beliefs. Focus on the Family has even stated on the record that there is “no evidence” that gays and lesbians are discriminated against in society. With these outrageous statements, it shouldn’t be a surprise that someone who supports these beliefs wouldn’t support civil rights for every American including those of the LGBT community.

    While I agree that a man is certainly welcome to worship in any manner he deems fit, one must question the motives behind the message that man is following, especially in the case of a public figure like Tim Tebow.

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    1. Adamotomy –

      As always, an enlightening comment. I knew about the Super Bowl commercial flap, and that was something I didn’t understand, and still don’t. Personally, I thought it was a mistake to air it during the Super Bowl, as that’s exactly the kind of thing that most people want to avoid when they’re watching the Big Game. But not everyone agrees with my opinions, and the people behind it were more anxious to get their message in front of as many eyes as possible. Tebow’s participation came more from his narrative – his mother was advised to abort him and chose not to – than from a political agenda. I have no doubt that Tebow probably is against abortion, and that’s his prerogative; however, the commercial wasn’t his idea, and he didn’t fund it. He merely agreed to share the story of his life as a way of illustrating that choosing life isn’t always bad.

      The “It Gets Better” campaign thing I didn’t know about, and I have to say that I am disappointed. I hope he has since changed his stance and signed on to the campaign; if not, then he deserves criticism. I personally think that particular campaign is one of the better PSAs out there – and needs some high profile believers to embrace it. Christians may not agree with homosexuality as a lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean we should stand idly by and allow discrimination to go on, much like we should have never allowed slavery. Hopefully, we’ll have a William Wilberforce to take a stand and help turn the tide.

      Lastly, let me just say this: Tebow is still young. While he’s been a believer for a long time, he’s not been alive all that long. As he ages, as he comes into contact with new people, experiences new things, and wrestles with some of the struggles that come with faith, I fully anticipate that his faith will mature as well. In fact, that’s the biblical mandate – that we, as believers, grow and change to become more like Christ. That means we will change our positions on some things because our knowledge and understanding of the Word will grow, and hopefully, people will see that kind of wisdom and maturity in Tebow.

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