I have always had a profound disinterest in spectator sports. Yet, I now know about the Denver Broncos, “controversial” Super Bowl ad star and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow. I know about him because of his “scandalous” behavior, at least in the view of the militantly secular world.
In a year when the big professional sport news is athletes boldly “coming out of the closet” to announce their homosexuality, we have Tim. Where the former is fawned over by the media, the later is ridiculed. In a world where athletes routinely demonstrate the poorest morals, we have a shining example of one who does not. The liberal media hates him.
It started with a Super Bowl pro-life ad. Tim’s mom suffered a life threatening condition during pregnancy which required a powerful drug to wake her from a coma. Doctors expected Tim to be stillborn and pushed for an abortion. Obviously, she refused. Fast forward to the Super Bowl ad. Pro-abortion groups and their liberal media allies were having a meltdown in anticipation. All manner of threats were made and editorials decried this vulgar, anti-choice spot. When it aired, abortion was not even mentioned but embracing life was displayed – embodied in Tebow’s simple existence.
The “problem” with Tebow is that he openly lives his life as a Christian. When asked in interviews, he admits he will remain a virgin until he marries. He acknowledges God as the source of his success. On the field, he recognizes that by briefly going down on one knee and pointing skyward. Many call this “Tebowing,” but the effect is more like sprinkling holy water on evil. That seems to be the seething reaction of many.
Colleen Carroll Campbell wrote recently about Tebow:
That this former Heisman Trophy winner and famously devout evangelical Christian quarterback has become a Rorschach test for our attitudes on religion in public life was never more apparent than in the wake of Sunday’s game, when Tebow’s feverish detractors rushed to the airwaves and blogosphere to exult in his defeat. Tebow’s unexpected success, and his habit of publicly thanking Jesus Christ for it at every opportunity, drove his critics crazy. His loss on Sunday restored their sense of cosmic justice – not that they believe in such nonsense.
It is odd that the clean-cut, perpetually grinning preacher’s son who spends his summers caring for orphans and publicly touts his plan to eschew premarital sex inspires such widespread fear and loathing, given how forgiving Tebow’s critics often are of the thuggery common in the NFL. Pundits horrified by Tebow’s pious persona have shown far less alarm at the antics of such gridiron stars as Brett Favre, caught harassing a female television commentator with unsolicited pictures of his private parts; Adam Jones, connected to multiple violent episodes in strip clubs; and Ben Roethlisberger, implicated, though not charged, in two sexual assaults. Doping, drunk driving, beating women, abusing dogs – you name it and there is an NFL star who has been caught doing it, only to issue a cursory apology, serve his time (or not) and scamper back to the huddle, usually to raucous public applause. But Tebow opens press conferences with praise for God and ends touchdown drives with genuflections of thanksgiving? Now that crosses the line.
In the end, both Tebowmania and Tebowphobia say far more about us than about this rookie quarterback. Tebowphobia tells us that for all our pretense to tolerance in 21st century America, many Americans harbor little tolerance for public figures who take their religious commitments too seriously, elaborate on them too specifically or live them too publicly – especially when those commitments are connected to traditional moral values.
As for Tebowmania, it reminds us that Americans are still hungry for heroes, still inspired by leaders whose optimism and grit allow them to overcome great odds and still captivated by that rare professional athlete who plays for love of the game while remembering that it’s not all about him and it is, at the end of the day, just a game. Tebow’s football star soon may fade, but the truth he has revealed to us – both about ourselves and about the power of an authentically lived faith to capture the imagination – will endure.
Read the whole article at Catholic Lane (reprinted from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch): Rorschach Test for our Attitudes on Religion.