I’m not an avid football fan, but I do love me a good Super Bowl party! I get more jazzed over the commercials and cruising the buffet than watching the game itself, although the 2007 Giants vs. the Patriots match-up did catch and keep my attention. But regular season play isn’t a staple of my TV-viewing habits.
I’m also not a Christian, but I like to consider myself respectful of others who are fervent believers.
I am a news junkie though, and so it was hard miss hearing about a certain famous, religious football player currently making headlines.
Actually, you’d have to be pretty out of touch not to have heard of Tim Tebow. Even my mom, who probably thinks there’s a hoop at the end of a football field, recently said to me, “What do you think about this Tim Tebow?!”
Tebow, the Denver Broncos starting quarterback, is quite the story. An impressive high-school player, he made a name for himself early on as the quarterback for the University of Florida, and the first-ever sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy. Since becoming the starting signal caller for Denver, he’s amassed a 7-2 win-loss record, with many wins coming as late-in-the-game ‘miracle’ reversals of earlier poor team performances.
But Tebow has garnered just as much attention for his self-avowed religious fervor as he has for his athletic performance on the field. It’s so much a part of who he is and what he does, there’s now an acknowledged word—tebowing—to describe his frequent habit for kneeling and praying on the field during a game. He points heavenward after touchdowns and is often quoted about his religious beliefs, even taking a playful turn about it on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
Some people praise his show of faith, saying he leads by example and provides a good role model. They credit his uninhibited display of religious values as something that could encourage others not so comfortable about revealing their own religious convictions. They say his religious outlook strengthens his own resolve and dedication to working hard at improving his professional level of play.
The critics are loud, though. A few players have mocked Tebow by ‘tebowing’ in front of him after a failed pass. Others say Tebow giving credit to God for his team’s success on the field shortchanges the hard work of his fellow players and coaches, and that piety has no place in football. He’s been faulted for dropping to his knee in prayer to give thanks for every little thing, with skeptics calling the frequency of the move comical.
Either way, it’s safe to say that Tebow is getting attention as a player and as a pray-er.
Of course, because it’s the entertaining, big money-making world of sports, it’s important to acknowledge the financial and PR benefit from any behavior that gets attention. Players hawk products and teams earn revenues from players who become media darlings or targets. It’s been said that Tebow is putting his endorsement muscle behind Christianity.
But there is value in what Tebow is endorsing. He’s modeling long-standing dedication and commitment; he’s been an outspoken, devout believer his entire 24 years. He’s putting his actions where his beliefs are, as a devoted volunteer off the field as well. It’s not such a bad thing for that kind of role model in a sport that has definitely seen its share of screw-ups.
Tebow’s holy devotion is only highlighted by opposing players who mock him. While they are free to exercise their version of an athlete’s ‘trash talk,’ they should realize the potential for backlash—it certainly is an overt display of nasty character, if nothing else.
But critics of his behaviors and dedication to his faith are missing the point. There’s no codified separation of church and state when it comes to football, and what’s the point of hating or fearing someone else’s ardent belief when it’s something that motivates him and drives his success. He’s not proselytizing; rather he’s minding his own business, and it just so happens there are millions of pairs of eyes on him when he does it.
Would it be better if he thanked a corporate sponsor for providing off-the-game-field training gear, giving them credit for his touchdowns rather than his god? Would critics prefer the flashier behavior of a gambling addict or nightclub regular at the helm of the team?
The greater sin would be hypocrisy. If he were using his religious beliefs to incite hatred or bigotry, criticism might be more justified. It’s like the singer who thanks God in a Grammy acceptance speech and then sings about women as ‘bitches.’ I prefer the godly behavior I’ve seen in Tebow over that.
And while I personally disagree with a socio-political stance he took when he appeared in a Super Bowl commercial supporting a pro-life message, I have to acknowledge that who people are is more complex than just one rigid belief. It’s not so black and white.
So, while the ‘tebowing’ trend spreads like wildfire () the debate will continue as Denver’s quarterback is sure to keep his team in the national spotlight. Who knows for sure if that spotlight will cast a ring of light to halo around Tebow’s head.