Digging deeper than Tebow as ‘nice guy’

Another National Football League weekend, another chance to put Tim Tebow’s name into digital print — making glad the hearts of Patheos.com leaders who live day after day in the world of Google and other search engines.

There is no breaking news about Tebow, at least not that I know of, but I remain fascinated with the fact that the media is so interested in all things Tebow, except for the fact that most journalists don’t seem to be interested at all in the actual details of his life and faith.

I mean, follow the money (thinking church offerings). Follow the guy around when he visits churches. I know it’s fun to speculate about his social life, but I think millions of people would also like to know whether he’s going to church, these days.

Thus, with serious intent, I want to point GetReligion readers toward an interesting Q&A interview the other day in which the always reliable Religion News Service veteran Adelle Banks (I will note she is a long-time friend of the Washington Journalism Center) sat down with a media scholar, Michael Butterworth of Bowling Green State University, who is studying the interactions between Tebow and the news media.

The key question: Why are journalists stuck at the level of Tebow as “nice guy,” when they could be probing the actual content of his faith and life?

Yes, there is an echo in here.

Here is a sample of the contents of this interview, which serves as a reminder that serious news organizations should experiment more with this format in their news pages:

Q: You argue that sports writers are, in a sense, giving him a pass, talking about how “nice” and “sincere” he is and not examining his faith in any depth.

A: There’s little doubt that he comes across at least as being every bit as nice as he’s portrayed to be. But there’s a clear evangelical mission that goes along with that. So we should be asking, “OK, well, what is it that Tim Tebow wants us to believe? Why is he so invested in these messages?” I don’t think there’s very much scrutiny of that in sports media coverage. …

Q: Have you had any discussions with sports writers about your views?

A. I haven’t and I have tried. I don’t think it is an intentional conspiracy by sports writers to say “Let’s put our heads together and celebrate this white guy who’s a religious guy and we’ll write about
him in these particular ways.” I think that’s the reason why a critical study of this is important.

There has been a concern that we don’t have anybody to believe in anymore. Our athletes, our great baseball players and quarterbacks, used to be our heroes. That’s so few and far between now. Tebow fills a kind of void, and I think sports writers are eager to jump on that.

There’s more, but, frankly, I would have love to have seen this interview go on way longer than it did. I say this, not because I want to see more critical debate about Tebow, but because I want to see more actual journalism done about his life and work — off the football field, in particular. Perhaps serious conversations such as this one can serve as a spark.

Does Religion News Service have more material from this session? Bring it on.

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.


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