Nearly every week during the last NFL season, I thought the Tim Tebow news would go away. Tebow is not the first athlete to offer public expressions of faith, nor will he be the last. But almost every week offered some new media approach on Tebow where someone would express frustration over the attention he was getting while others would rush to defend him.
Now New York is all over his trade to the Jets, setting off speculation over whether he will steal attention from quarterback Mark Sanchez. Tebow was clear in his 35-minute press conference: he is excited (44 times over). It’s been fun to see some of the creativity in the reports coming out of the trade, including a Time magazine and a New York magazine piece on where Tebow could hang out with fellow evangelicals.
My favorite piece so far, though, is a piece from the New York Times on how Tebow is “a careful evangelical.” Basically, the reporters argue that when it comes down to it, Tebow really isn’t all that controversial on the evangelical spectrum of things. Yes, he has painted messages under his eyes and takes a knee to pray (dubbed Tebowing), but these gestures really shouldn’t be all that shocking. After all, an evangelical is naturally drawn to something called evangelizing.
The piece notes that during Monday’s press conference, Tebow’s faith didn’t come up right away. The reporters demonstrated in Tebow’s own words how he portrays his faith.
The subject of faith — and any mention of Jesus — did not arise until the 16th question. It seemed strange, given all of the curiosity and debate over Tebow’s methods of on-field proselytizing — from biblical verses on his cheeks; to his kneeling in prayer after touchdowns (since christened as a verb: Tebowing); to his habit of open postgame news conferences by thanking “first and foremost, my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.”
Asked to articulate his religious beliefs, he demurred, slightly.
“We’re at a press conference for a football team, so it’s not exactly the platform to get up here and share everything you believe,” said Tebow, who attended a Southern Baptist church with his family in Jacksonville. “But I have no problem, ever, sharing what I believe. I’m a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, and that is first and foremost the most important thing in my life. For me it’s about having a relationship with Christ. And that’s pretty much it. That’s the basis of what I believe in.”
I’m not a big fan of the use of the word “proselytize,” partly because I can never spell it right but mostly because it has a negative connotation (even Wiki says so). Is a public expression of faith necessarily proselytizing? What about those who wear head coverings or pray before meals or wear a gold cross necklace? Part of the surprised attitude from reporters might stem from the fact that evangelicals don’t really have many obvious identifying features. Even an evangelical pastor probably looks more like your average Joe than a clergyman.
The piece goes into detail about Tebow’s faith, when he had a conversion moment, how he grew up in a Southern Baptist Church, how he does prison ministry. In other words, it’s a fairly typical evangelical narrative.
So when did he start becoming controversial? Of course, we all remember the Focus on the Family ad he did for the 2010 Super Bowl, which turned out to be less about abortion than most reporters seemed to expect. Even if you know the story that doctors recommended Tebow’s mother have an abortion but instead gave birth to Tebow, it wasn’t really a staunch “anti-abortion message” as some have portrayed it to be. From the Times piece, it appears that he spends more time in prisons than abortion-related gatherings. In an interview for Christianity Today, he didn’t seem to want to go in-depth on pro-life strategies. In other words, he picks and chooses his causes more carefully than media reports have portrayed. The Times piece circles back around to show how he hasn’t been all that controversial.
Such messages seem to come on his terms. When he was asked about same-sex marriage by a Washington Post reporter during his book tour last year, a publicist interjected and said it was off-topic.
And while Tebow’s name has been invoked often in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, and his endorsement could be as powerful as that of any political figure, he has resisted any temptation to show support for a specific candidate.
He is, after all, just a football player. Isn’t he?
The piece shows just how political Tebow could be but hasn’t been, something other reporters seem to overlook.