On Tim Tebow, ‘spirituality’ and stating the obvious

Here we go again, sort of.

Now, I live in the land of purple and black here in Maryland, home of the World Champion Baltimore Ravens (it’s still fun to say that), where if anyone asked the local faithful to nominate a few candidates for the role of Antichrist, New England coach Bill Belichick would be right near the top of the list. Thus, the announcement that You Know Who had signed with the Patriots (Tim Tebow plus Patriots; get ready for an IRS audit) created quite a bit of amazement.

And now this, care of a better-than-the-norm story in Newsday:

FOXBORO, Mass. – The Patriots have said almost nothing about Tim Tebow’s football skills — or lack thereof — and where he might fit in on the field.

But Wednesday the team’s owner, Robert Kraft, said he was drawn to Tebow in part because of his “spirituality,” using that term three times to reporters.

“You can’t have enough good people around you,” Kraft said after a ceremony to honor 26 winners of the Myra Kraft Community MVP Awards, named for his late wife. “He has the added dimension of spirituality being so important to him, and that personally appeals to me a lot.”

Now, no sane reader had any trouble reading the code language here. There is no way on earth that Kraft was suggesting that young master Tebow was one of those “spiritual but not religious” people. Kraft simply didn’t need to connect the dots for everyone in the room to know what he was saying. Right?

Now my journalist question — after reading quite a few mainstream reports on this development — is whether it is a good thing or a bad thing that some, perhaps many, journalists felt that they needed to write this story while avoiding the “C” word. Did journalists need to state the obvious, or was the fact they were writing about TIM TEBOW enough for most of the population of North America?

The team at Newsday decided to edit into the news text — in background material, of course — simply, clear references pointing to the rest of the religious angles in this story:

Tebow long has been known for his strong Christian faith. Kraft, who is Jewish, added, “Every interaction I’ve seen and watched, whether he’s in college or when I met him in the draft process, he handles himself in a first-class way. I don’t know anyone who has ever said anything that is not positive about him — people who are objective.”

A wise choice? I mean, after all, we are talking about a religious ghost the size of an elephant.

Belichick, of course, had little or nothing to say about anything linked to this media circus. He’s a master of the stone-faced press conference. Tebow was his usual self and said a few polite words and, when offered a chance to flee, managed to escape the media blitz.

Meanwhile, I loved this second set of comments from Kraft:

Kraft called the addition of Tebow an example of “depth management.” But for now Tebow is third on the depth chart at quarterback with little apparent chance of moving up. When asked specifically what impresses him about Tebow on the field, Kraft said: “I think he’s hard-working and very cooperative.”

As Belichick did Tuesday, Kraft eventually tried to steer the conversation away from Tebow, saying, “He’s just one of 90 people right now. I wonder if we haven’t talked enough about him.”

And all the people said?

By the way, Newsday was not the only news source to quickly add the “C” word into the mix. At the “On Faith” section at The Washington Post, online editor-reporter Elizabeth Tenety was even more blunt. I liked the way she let the main “spirituality” quote run long to show that Kraft was actually making an attempt to link the quarterback’s faith and character with football issues:

Over the years, NFL quarterback Tim Tebow’s Christian faith has been part of his intrigue to his supporters, and a turnoff for those who think he is too open about his personal beliefs.

Wednesday the New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft put himself on the side of those who admire Tebow for his faith, telling reporters that the quarterback’s spirituality is part of his appeal.

Here’s what Kraft told reporters, according to ESPN: “If you want to win in this league, you need quality depth management, in the age of the salary cap. Whenever you can get a competitive, first-grade person to join your team, you never know what happens. But for me personally, having Tim Tebow on this team, he’s someone who believes in spirituality, he’s very competitive and works hard, and has a great attitude, and he’s a winner. So having him as part of our franchise is great, but he has to compete just like anyone else. We’re blessed to have a lot of people like that, but the fact that spirituality is very important to him is very appealing to me.”

To top it off, this was not Kraft’s first set of remarks on this topic.

Kraft, who is Jewish and has reportedly made large philanthropic donations to Israeli sports causes, has spoken positively about Tebow’s faith before. Ahead of a 2011 showdown between the Patriots and the Denver Broncos, where Tebow then played, Kraft said: “He’s great for the NFL. … The kind of young man he is and the values he represents, I think it’s terrific. …

“We had a date with him last year here when he came (before the draft). He’s a real, fine young man and I sort of like it that he’s about spirituality and the country is thinking about spirituality.”

Wait! There’s more!

Since we are talking about a news publication in Washington, D.C., where there are more lawyers than people, Tenety also came up with a perfectly valid legal angle:

Charles C. Haynes of the First Amendment Center says that he thinks that Kraft’s comments on the role Tebow’s faith played in his hiring are perfectly legal. Haynes writes:

“There is a difference between hiring or retaining someone on the basis of religious affiliation, which could run afoul of civil rights laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion, and hiring or retaining someone because, among other things, he or she is spiritually-minded or has good values. I see nothing problematic for an employer to express admiration for employees who have faith commitments or good character etc. absent evidence that religious employees are treated more favorably than non-religious employees. This is an instance, I think, of a employer generally admiring the character of an employee, including the employee’s spiritual commitments.”

Stay tuned. No matter how much they try to soft-pedal this, the Tebow and Belichick anti-circus is sure to keep drawing scrutiny.

Print Friendly

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.

  • Sari

    Terry,

    The media should let Kraft’s words be Kraft’s words. As a Jew, one who was raised observant and now belongs to a Conservative shul, he cannot say he admires Tebow’s Christianity. He can say, however, that he admires Tebow’s “spirituality” and the way it influences his actions. Iow, he admires the good works that stem from Tebow’s beliefs without validating the belief system itself. That is how a Jewish person such as myself would translate Kraft’s comments.

  • tmatt

    SARI:

    Agreed. My question, really, was whether reporters these days need BACKGROUND on what Tebow believes. Or is that just a given?

    • Sari

      It’s a given. But even if it wasn’t, I think what Newsday added was sufficient. At this point, Tebow is a very known quantity.

      My comment spoke more to your comments towards the end re: whether hiring Tebow on the basis of his “spirituality” opened Kraft and the Patriots up to what sounds like a discrimination lawsuit. To me, it sounded more like Kraft saying that he tried to hire players who were good on the field -and- had strong moral character. It’s clear that Kraft takes seriously the mandate to give tzedakah (charity) and that he set up a foundation in his wife’s memory to foster such acts. I’d have been more interested in exploring Kraft’s religious background than rehashing Tebow’s.

      • tmatt

        The comments to which you are referring are from the Washington Post.

        • Sari

          Yes. but you chose to include them.

          I find it interesting that you are very interested in having the media expand on how Tebow’s religion informs his behavior but expressed no interest in how Kraft’s religion influences his behavior. Shouldn’t they be interested in both?

          • Richard Mounts

            Sari,

            It seems to me the article is about Tim Tebow, so I get tmatt’s point about the possible need to give some more detail of Tebow’s faith. I believe that there was at least an attempt to link Robert Kraft’s faith to his charitable gifts to Israeli sports causes.

          • Sari

            I disagree, Richard. The article was about Tebow -and- it was about Kraft’s decision to recruit Tebow, who is not a stellar player.

            To say that Kraft gives charity to Israeli athletes says nothing about his faith. Lots of irreligious Jews give to Israeli (or Jewish) causes. The foundation in his wife’s name (or that he was married for close to 50 years before her passing) says more. But why does he feel this kinship with Tebow? Media must address how his religion drives his behavior, just as they’ve done for Tebow in the past. Otherwise it sounds a lot like we want media to help Tebow spread his message while ignoring the way other people’s faiths spur them to do good works.

  • David D

    Nothing to add on the coverage, but I didn’t want to let that photoshopped picture of Tebow go by unmentioned. Is that really how he’s portrayed in the media? It might as well be a caricature.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X