What’s next, sports guys? RG3-ing?

At this point, everybody knows what “Tebowing” is. Right? I mean, I sports fan or generic news consumer would have to be living on Mars not to have noticed the Tim Tebow media storm.

Here’s my question: At what point is someone in the media going to notice the new variation on this theme, which could be called “RG3-ing”?

RG3 is, of course, a reference to Robert Griffin III, the Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor University. At times during games, especially after touchdown passes, Griffin does a two-armed variation on the basic Tebow, kneeling to say a short prayer, and then ends with his own symbolic statement — making the sign of the cross.

The video attached to this post includes a high-profile example, after a bizarre tip-drill touchdown bomb in Baylor’s signature win over Oklahoma. I was not able to find a YouTube that includes the RG3-ing variation after the final touchdown against Texas, when the quarterback executed the rare backwards roll into the full Tebow, followed by the sign of the cross.

Baylor fans (I’m a rather prodigal alum, by the way) are, of course, just a touch excited about that Heisman win (click here and turn the volume DOWN). One of the reasons many Bears fans are excited is that RG3 is an outspoken Christian, an excellent student (he already has his undergrad pre-law work done and is finishing a master’s degree in communication) and a committed social activist with the poor in Waco, a city with more than its share of social woes and image problems.

The question I am waiting for someone in the mainstream press to ask is quite simple: Baylor is, of course, known as a Baptist university. What’s up with the sign of the cross? Is RG3 a Catholic? An Episcopalian? A member of an emerging evangelical church in which people dabble in all kinds of religious symbolism?

With my Baylor contacts (family and friends), I have heard that his background is Catholic, but in Waco he has been attending an evangelical church.

However, all you have to do is listen to the guy to know that the religion issue is going to pop into the coverage as he heads to the pros sooner or later. Here’s a sample after his Heisman win:

“It seemed like the script was written for us to go out and win this award,” Griffin said. “To have those guys not in a game, to have us playing a big-time opponent the last week, it was huge. It seemed like God wrote it that way and we had to go out and fulfill it and we did that as a team. Not just myself, I didn’t play a perfect game and we won the game in fantastic fashion and it helped me win this award.”

And then there was the Heisman acceptance speech itself (video and transcript). A sample:

… Everybody associated with Baylor University has reason to celebrate tonight. To my teammates, I’d like to say thank you. As we say, the hotter the heat, the harder the steel. No pressure, no diamonds. We compete, we win. We are Baylor. Baylor we are, Baylor we’ll always be, but it’s up to us to define what that means, and this Heisman Trophy is only the beginning of that process.

To Baylor nation, I say this is a forever kind of moment, and may we be blessed to have many more like it in the future. God has a plan, and it’s our job to fulfill it, and in this moment we have.

Does it matter if Griffin is a Catholic or an evangelical of some stripe? Not really. Baylor has become a rather complex community of believers and nonbelievers.

However, his religious identity — in the Tebow age — is sure to become part of his story as a student athlete (he could head back into Olympics competition as a high hurdles star) and pro quarterback (it should be noted that John “I’m not so sure about Tebow” Elway scouted the Oklahoma game).

The basic coverage after the Heisman rite was faith-free, other than the Godtalk in the speech itself. Consider this New York Times story, for example. Does anyone expect that silence to last?

The journalistic key is that Griffin eventually deserves a chance to speak for himself, even as the press tries to fit him into the Tebow picture. Consider this passage in a recent Grantland feature — which focused on a Waco visit after one of Baylor three losses during this season:

… Discussing the spectacle, he brought up Tim Tebow. Griffin said he’ll argue with his friends about anything other than politics or religion, but when I told him you couldn’t separate Tebow and his faith at this point, he nodded, mentioned the “Tebowing thing,” said he was rooting for Tebow, and then told me about a disagreement he had with his mom. He told her there were different kinds of Christians, and she said no, and Griffin told me she’s the type of person who will say, “Have a blessed day,” and he’s the type who might not invite you to church but will bring you with him if you ask.

“I don’t have to constantly throw it in their face,” he says. “I’m a believer.”

Stay tuned, to say the least.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Julia

    He doesn’t talk like a Catholic, altho his mom does.
    Catholics don’t do the Tebow thing.

    A a Catholic might do a discreet sign of the cross before a game or a big play, praying to play well.
    You won’t see thanks for touchdowns or winning the game – just the outward sign of a prayer in advance to play well, not necessarily to score or win the game.

    Also – Catholics don’t mean a quick sign of the cross to be an advertisement for their faith.
    I think the Evangelicals do consider Tebowing an act of witnessing that needs to be obvious to bystanders and the crowd.

    Looks to me like he converted, but might still be doing the sign of the cross to please his mom, but he does it at the wrong time/part of the game for it to be Catholic.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    This is my point. SOUNDS LIKE is not journalistic.

    These facts are part of his story. It’s possible he has been asked and is choosing not to answer.

  • Brian

    Or a Catholic might have a huge gold sign with blue letters on it that says PLAY LIKE A CHAMPION TODAY.

    In addition, those Catholics might go to Mass before every football game and walk from the basilica to the stadium.

  • Jerry

    At this point, everybody knows what “Tebowing” is. Right?

    I can guess that that is but I don’t know. I’m not interested in following the religion of sports figures.

    Maybe it’s time to start a media uproar about the religion of plumbers and whether or not they pray before plunging a toilet and give thanks when the clog clears.

  • Julia

    Seems that people don’t like the extravagent high fiving after touchdowns either. Something to do with being a good sport about winning and losing. Not liking Tebowing may have nothing to do with disliking Christianity, but not liking what looks to some like unseemly crowing.

    St. Louis went through this with Mark Warner. Sports writers who didn’t like all his talk of religion seemed to equate it with the high-fiving. And Mark’s wife was a lot like DeeDee Pujols. Deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra might say.

  • Matt

    I’ve noticed for years now that a lot of athletes who aren’t Catholic do the cross thing. I presume there are a lot of people who simply think of it as a Christian thing.

  • Parker

    But the sign of the cross is not exclusively a Catholic thing. Off the top of my head, Anglicans, and Eastern Orthodox also do it (albiet in the opposite direction).

  • Julia

    There’s doing the sign of the cross at Mass or other religious services; and then there is doing it in a non-religious setting – like a sports event. I’m not aware of Anglicans or Orthodox doing so, but I could be wrong.


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