The president of a media company recently told me that he goes to ESPN every day to unwind. Not this week, of course, with all the Joe Paterno coverage. Many fans like sports to be kept pure, to focus on the game of stats without the stickiness or drama.
For whatever reason, combining religion and sports has added an extra level of stickiness this fall with Tim Tebow starting for the Broncos. In this week’s podcast, I talk about the media coverage of Tebow’s faith, focusing on how polarizing the athlete has become. Since the earlier discussion, CNN has posted a piece on Tebowing, the website started last month to show pictures of the verb, “To get down on a knee and start praying, even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different.”
…Jared Kleinstein, a Denver-born Broncos fan who was watching the game from New York, noticed that Tebow had knelt in prayer, alone on the sidelines, while his teammates celebrated on the field.
Kleinstein decided to take a picture outside the New York bar where he had gathered with friends. Six of them knelt on their knees with their balled-up right fists to their faces, Tebow-style.
I’d like to know more about Kleinstein, whether he’s personally religious and what motivated him to launch the site. The story offers some background on Tebow, but it doesn’t necessarily get at why the athlete is so divisive.
Tebow, who has started three games for the 3-5 Broncos, does not shy away from criticism of his quarterbacking – or of his faith. The son of missionaries, he embraces his spotlight to draw attention to his Christianity. He and his mother appeared in a Focus on the Family anti-abortion ad that appeared during the Super Bowl in February.
That kind of faith-based boldness separates Tebow from other religious sports figures. His more public displays hearten supporters and enrage detractors.
And as we discussed earlier, there was nothing in the actual advertisement that ran during the Superbowl that had an antiabortion message. You can make whatever inferences you want about Focus on the Family and Tebow’s personal views, but the actual 30-second ad that aired didn’t touch on abortion. Here is the transcript:
PAM TEBOW: I call him my miracle baby. He almost didn’t make it into this world. I remember so many times when I almost lost him. It was so hard. Well he’s all grown up now, and I still worry about his health. Everybody treats him like he’s different, but to me, he’s just my baby. He’s my Timmy, and I love him.
TIM TEBOW: Thanks mom. Love you too.
You have to know the background that Pam Tebow was advised by a doctor to abort her son to know that there might be an underlying message.
Also, I’m not sure I can get behind the story’s assertion that Tebow’s “faith-based boldness separates Tebow from other religious sports figures.” You can see examples of Tony Dungy and Kurt Warner who were just as bold but didn’t get the same kind of backlash. Here’s what Carl Jacobs commented on the earlier post:
It has become de rigueur to show public contempt for those Christians who refuse to mold themselves to the prevalent worldview. Kurt Warner was protected by success. Tebow is not. He has become a metaphor for Christianity in general. His failure is viewed as a manifestation of the falsehood and weakness of the Christian faith. People observe the hoped-for failure of the Tebow so they can project that failure onto a religion the despise and revile. That’s really all this is about.
This comment seems to encapsulate at least one side of why Tebow might be so polarizing. If you don’t like Tebow, you probably don’t like Christianity. Those who don’t think he’s a good quarterback? Well, some would say you just need to have a little faith. It makes things a little bit awkward when fans extend performance on the field to what it says about Christianity. Enjoy the podcast.