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.