As long as there have been superstar athletes, there have been fans who confuse being really good at a sport with being a really good person. We all want to believe that the men and women we watch on TV go home from a day of shooting three-pointers to buy their kids ice cream and adopt several puppies. Sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it? Time and again, the religious – even those who aren’t hardcore practitioners themselves – ascribe moral virtue on the basis of public piety.
Tim Tebow is trying to push this equation as far as it can go. Despite being kind of awful at football, his pro athlete, pro-Jesus status is drawing plenty of admiration. Take, for example, this starry-eyed letter from a retired professional water skier:
His life reminds me that champion’s [sic] aren’t people who never fail or never fall, rather, they are individuals who get up, get back in the game, and fight to the end. Champion’s [sic] are people who don’t let the odds defeat them, the nay-sayers discourage them, or the clock of life cause them to panic. Lastly, the life of Tim Tebow reminds me that with God, nothing is impossible!
Clearly, the co-incidence of sports skill and piety creates paragons of moral virtue, which explains why Tim Tebow starred in an anti-choice Focus on the Family ad. Fortunately, we can test our hypothesis further, thanks to Bleacher Report’s list of the 25 Most Religious Athletes.
To be fair, many of the athletes on that list give back admirably to their communities. Retired NBA player Dikembe Mutombo does humanitarian work in his native Congo. Former NFL star Deion Sanders mentors kids through Boys & Girls Club of America.
Others, like retired basketball player A.C. Green, have their own charities that do charming things like advocate abstinence-only sex education. Former MLB slugger Jeff Kent donates to political causes near and dear to his heart, like the passing of Proposition 8. And then there’s Carl Everett:
During his career Everett had numerous nasty altercations with umpires and had said of the possibility of having an openly gay teammate that he would “set him straight” because “Gays being gay is wrong” and that he “doesn’t believe in being gay.”
It actually feels kind of wrong to call Everett “religious” after all that; more like intolerant psychopathic behavior masquerading as “religion.”
I don’t know if that qualifies as “masquerading.” I mean, that stuff is in the rulebook. So is his not-believing-in-dinosaurs schtick, although holding a gun to his wife’s head would probably have been enough to earn him a reprimand.
Just goes to show, yet again, that pass-throwing and verse-reciting skills don’t correlate to moral virtue. Compassion and rationality, however, do.