Religion Today

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Seeking the Essence of Tim Tebow in the Midst of Controversy and Ridicule

The Denver Broncos football team made the second round of the AFC playoffs, despite having only an even win-loss record during the regular season (8-8) and losing the season's last three games. This is thanks in large part to the Broncos' young quarterback, Tim Tebow.

Since Tebow rose to the Broncos' starting QB position in mid-season, he has become the most infuriating QB in the entire league. In most games he has played three quarters of middling-quality football only to pull out a win in the last quarter (or overtime) with a combination of spectacular plays and good luck.
But to judge by the reaction of football fans, the sports media and the Internet, the most infuriating aspect of Tebow is his religious beliefs and actions. Tebow often punctuates media remarks with thanks to his "Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," and will bless those with whom he talks. Sometimes he has written his favorite Bible verse, John 3:16, on the black patches under his eyes.
His most widely known religious act is that after each touchdown, Tim goes down on one knee in prayer. This move has become known as "Tebowing" and has spawned a range of YouTube videos of people Tebowing in front of famous world sites and local hotspots, and doing flash-mob Tebows.
Needless to say Tim Tebow has become a controversial figure, partly because of the way he plays football and partly because of his evangelical Christian persona. Many who weigh in on the debate think the two do not fit together. Why does he thank Jesus for the way he plays football when his play is clearly so mixed? Why does he so unabashedly and overtly act as an Evangelical when football is so tough, so seemingly against Christian values?
The answer lies in who Tim Tebow is, at the core of himself. Good athletes perform best when they are centered, when they have put all distractions out of their minds. Tebow lives, eats and breathes his religious beliefs -- not as a conscious act, but as part of his unconscious character. This character was developed over the course of his upbringing.
Tebow was born in the Philippines to Baptist missionary parents. His father is a pastor and his mother homeschooled him throughout primary and secondary school. He grew up almost solely within an Evangelical world, with little influence from non-Christian sources. High school football seems to have been the primary exception to this observation. But he did not attend the school he played for; before practice every day he attended his family's home school.
Tebow's religious personality and activities began to gain national attention when he was the quarterback for the University of Florida Gators. Even when he won the Heisman Trophy, as a sophomore, he was already gaining notoriety for the verse references on his eye black. This evangelizing action has been seen by many as a stunt.
But whereas many evangelicals secretly fear evangelizing (because they do not like to be embarrassed or ridiculed anymore than the rest of us), Tebow's upbringing made it an unquestioned part of his inner personality. He evangelizes when he is playing well. It is not a distraction that prevents him from getting in the zone and staying focused.
So how should we understand Tim's Tebowing? Most commentators, as well as the ridiculers, have seen it as part of his evangelizing. They understand it as part of his evangelical actions of trying to use public attention to win people to Christ.
I think it stems from the inner essence of his being. That is a fancy way of saying that Tebow has his moment of prayer because that is who he is. By pausing to connect with his God, Tebow recenters himself. In the midst of celebration and struggle, he takes a moment to connect with his core being, a being who believes unquestioningly that his first priority is his God, not his football. One does not have to have the same beliefs as Tebow to understand that he is sincere.


  • I think you've hit the nail on the head with the sincerity issue, and it's really not that hard to believe, as all of us hold some type of belief construct sincerely.

    Why get so mad that Tebow's is evangelical Christian in nature?

    Perhaps for the same reason why Denver Broncos fans have had a love-hate relationship with their quarterbacks for decades. When they play well, they are lionized unrealistically and and when they play poorly, they are derided for all of the shortcomings of the team. This all-or-nothing mentality of the Broncos fan base and the tendency of the team itself to idolize and assign way too much responsibility to the quarterback are part of another set of sincerely held belief structures.

    As long as Tebow's don't compete, then all is well.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/11/2012  

  • Hi Doc! Pretty good assessment, but there is a 'butterfly effect' to young Mr. Tebow's demonstrations that you may not have considered. We look at this here:

    Is it possible that Christ, being well-versed in the foibles of human nature, may have had that in mind with Mt 6:5?

    Then ... being a bit of a heathen, we (editorially speaking) go a bit further here:

    By Blogger CatLover, at 1/11/2012  

  • Thanks, Paul, for another stimulating column. I do have a point or two of
    contention, however. (I suspect you're not surprised.)

    If Tim Tebow were a private person, outside the public eye, his
    expressions of faith would not bother me in the least. However, he is not
    a private person but a public figure making a great deal of money. When
    the "Tebowing" craze hit schools a few weeks ago, a number of students
    were quoted as saying that they were doing it "out of respect for Tim
    Tebow." Really? I thought it was supposed to be done out of respect for
    God or Jesus or whomever else one prays to. When Tebow is set up as a
    "God surrogate" his visible displays of piety violate some of the most
    cherished tenets of Christianity. And when he is rewarded so
    handsomely--with fame and adulation and, most of all, money--for doing
    so, then he flies directly in the face of the instructions of Jesus of
    Nazareth in Matthew 6 regarding displays of public piety. If Tebow were
    not such a devout Christian and made such a fuss about it, little
    attention would be paid to him: a quarterback with questionable skills, a
    pass completion percentage of below 50%, and one of the lowest
    quarterback ratings in the NFL. There are flashes of brilliance in his
    play. But they are few and far between. If he spent more time on the
    sidelines going over defensive sets and less time praying, perhaps he
    would become a more proficient quarterback.

    Tebow also needs to remember the injunctino of Jesus of Nazareth to
    "render unto Caesar" and that not all Bronco (or football) fans are
    evangelical Christians. Some of them are Jewish, some are Muslim, some
    are Hindu, some are Buddhist, some are agnostic or atheist. Those fans,
    through buying tickets or looking at commercials on TV or even sitting in
    the stadium and seeing the commercial displays, are paying Tebow's
    munificent salary. If I were a devout Jew with Bronco season tickets,
    Tebow's evangelical actions would make me just a tad uncomfortable.

    I think Tebow is a genuinely devout (if somewhat naive) young man. But I
    would feel much less uncomfortable with his displays of public piety if
    he weren't making 3.6 million a year with incentive bonuses and if he
    didn't have a best-selling book out about his faith and football
    (ghost-written). I know that elsewhere in Matthew, Jesus of Nazareth
    instructed his followers not to hide their light under a bushel. But
    Tebow, it seems to me, shines a bit too brightly. And when the light he
    shines causes middle-school students to "Tebow" in "respect" for him
    rather in reverence to God, that is surely wrong. I know (or think I
    know) that wasn't Tebow's intent. But very often the consequences of
    one's actions are at right angles (at least) to the direction of the
    intent. And when that happens, the actor needs to take stock of his

    I could go on but I'm sure you understand my point (and have already
    thought of it yourself).

    As always, I enjoy your columns and never find one that doesn't give me
    some things to think about.



    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/12/2012  

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