I’ve been reading a lot of stories on Tim Tebow lately and it’s really interesting to see the sort of reaction he is getting. I watch a lot of ESPN too and the Tim Tebow “haters” among the analysts will qualify his success by emphasizing his failures. The Tim Tebow “fans” among the analysts will always overlook his struggles in favor of his successes. Suffice it to say, Tim Tebow is a polarizing figure.
I’ve also found it interesting to see how the secular media portrays Tebow. Writers are apparently contractually obligated to make a Christian joke when referencing Tebow within the first four sentences of their story. Let me be clear, I’m not easily offended so I’m not bothered by it. I’m always interested in how non-Christians perceive Christians so I pay close attention.
I read this article today from Grantland.com about Tebow and here are a couple of excerpts:
Tim Tebow has, for various reasons and despite the presence of many other religious athletes in the NFL, become the avatar or champion of evangelical Christianity in football.
I’m not a churchgoer, personally. But even for me, Sunday’s Miami-Denver game was a harrowing existential ride. For about three quarters, Tebow floundered, and it looked like the Living Water Bible Church out on Route 17 was wrong about pretty much everything. (Just as I suspected!) Then he rallied the Broncos for a heroic comeback and, d’oh, it seemed like there might be a god in the universe after all. And people called the win “overhyped”!
It’s not as though, pre-Tebow, the NFL was lacking religiosity. I’m pretty sure Reggie White was actually a character in the Bible. And every sideline reporter has lived through this scenario —
SIDELINE REPORTER: What defensive adjustments did you make after the half that let you stop the run so effectively in the third quarter?
MIDDLE LINEBACKER: I thank Jesus Christ my personal Lord and Savior thine be the glory baby [kisses finger twice, points up at sky]
— so many times that they must all be terrified it’ll start to happen in their regular, non-football lives:
But Tebow’s religiosity is different. For one thing, the public narrative of the Christian athlete normally involves a grown-up conversion experience: Deion Sanders on the Damascene Road. Tebow, by contrast, has been coming at the world with his own personal Good News since college, when he was still dewy from youth group. The son of missionaries, he always seemed religious in a way that, say, Kurt Warner didn’t.
The evangelical movement spends a lot of money and time coaching its kids on how to confront secular culture, but the kids don’t usually reach a position at which they can confront it on a national-media scale — not as kids, anyway. But then here was Tebow, the quarterback at Florida, this articulate, successful young guy who was prepared to test all those techniques before a mass audience. He was calm. He was patient. He was totally committed, with the Bible verses on his eyeblack and his self-confessed virginity, but you never got the feeling he was judging you.
Tebow self-consciously presented himself as a defender of the faith, filming anti-abortion commercials, flying around the world to help with his parents’ missions. A lot of athletes have been religious advocates or preachers over the years, but they’ve generally acknowledged some token separation between their private faith and their public lives, even if the line often blurs. Reggie White appeared in ads opposing homosexuality, but not until after he retired. Tebow, on the other hand, gets press for circumcising Filipino babies. A trillion words have been written about this already, but suffice it to say that if you see him as the avatar of muscular Christianity in football, you know that in his bland, smiling, placidly self-confident way, he sees himself that way, too.
Whenever I catch one of Tebow’s games, I tend to lose sight of the scoreboard and just focus on the metacompetition, the weird Joan of Arc drama that seems to go along with everything he does. I imagine a bar under a train station somewhere where the relevant ideas men gather to learn their fates. Did a receiver drop a pass? James Dobson just choked on a nacho. Did Tim throw an interception? Daniel Dennett just chest-bumped Richard Dawkins. Again, I realize that this is stupid, that it’s beyond stupid, but compared to actually watching the Broncos? It’ll do.
I find myself half-consciously rooting for Tebow to fail, even though I have nothing against him, have lots of religious friends, am not especially tribal by nature, and wouldn’t want to be responsible for the nacho-related deaths of any prominent evangelical leaders, even if I detest their politics. Doesn’t matter. The part of me that wants to eat pork and not stone people just switches on and cheers for the blitzing linebacker.
There’s a problem with this, though, a problem that I’m convinced lies at the heart of the minor cultural puzzle that Tebow represents. The problem is that if you’re rooting against Tebow because he’s religious, you’re giving way to the trial-by-combat impulse. And the whole idea of the trial by combat is that there’s a higher power adjudicating the combat. It means something for the blue knight to kill the green knight only if God is moving the swords. So what I, many secular football fans, and Imaginary Daniel Dennett are really rooting for is for God to make Tim Tebow fail as a means of discrediting Himself, God, in accordance with our wishes, and against His, God’s, own interests.
Read the whole article here.