I bleed Orange and Blue, which means that I'm having a great year. My Denver Broncos, who were completely out of the running just a few games in, somehow managed to tie for first place in the AFC West last week. And this week we -- yes, I'm a key component of the team's success -- had another amazing win in overtime to get first place on our own. I had already psychologically prepared for this week's loss. We were behind 10-0 with just minutes remaining in the 4th quarter. Unbelievable. I was fine with the Broncos picking Kyle Orton over Tim Tebow as starting quarterback earlier this year, but I think everyone agrees that the decision to hand the reins over to Tebow has made for some fun football. Fun, heart attack-inducing football. Week after week, Tebow pulls off some improbable come-from-behind scenario to send the game into overtime or winning in the last minutes.
But the weirdest thing of all about Tebow is how so many of his lovers and loathers are basing their feelings about him on his religious persona. I just like him because he wins, but apparently I'm in the minority. This weekend we saw tons of coverage of Tebow and much of it was focused on religion. Here's the Christian Science Monitor. Here's Frank Bruni in the New York Times (with a good column ending in a lamer-than-lame kicker). Here's Salon's "Hallelujah! The Liberal Case For Tim Tebow." Last week Grantland had Chuck Klosterman's analysis of Tebow haters. And since we're linking things, here's a nice non-religiony think piece from last month on what Tebow demonstrates about changes in the NFL. As I type this, Bob Costas is featuring Tebow-mania for his monologue.
I may be a tad biased, but Sarah Pulliam Bailey's Tebow Christianity Today Q&A from the summer is still a great read.
But the piece I rather enjoyed from this weekend -- and would recommend for anyone hoping to learn exactly why Tebow is loved and loathed both during play and after it -- is an excerpt from Patton Dodd's e-book "The Tebow Mystique: The Faith and Fans of Football's Most Polarizing Player."
That e-book has been getting a bunch of buzz recently and the Wall Street Journal featured a bit from it on the front page of the review section for its Saturday Essay. "Tim Tebow: God's Quarterback" discusses how "he has led the Denver Broncos to one improbable victory after another—defying his critics and revealing the deep-seated anxieties in American society about the intertwining of religion and sports." After describing one of the various improbable victories, we learn:
And when the shouting was over, Mr. Tebow did what he always does—he pointed skyward and took a knee in prayer. In postgame interviews, the young quarterback often starts by saying, "First, I'd like to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" and ends with "God bless." He stresses that football is just a game and that God doesn't care who wins or loses.
This combination of candid piety and improbable success on the field has made Mr. Tebow the most-discussed phenomenon of the National Football League season.
Since I'm an expat living on the East Coast, yesterday was the first game I'd gotten to see instead of listen to on a live stream of KOA-850 (remind me to tell you the fun and delightful story about how Comcast failed to fix my cable for day after day surrounding the Monday Night game featuring the Broncos last month). If you watched the post-game yesterday, you saw Tebow do exactly these things in his interview.
The article discusses how sports and religion mingle regularly and how various players acknowledge their faith during or after games. But Tebow, we're told, "has never been content to leave his evangelical faith on the field." We are reminded of that Focus on the Family pro-life ad that ran during the Superbowl last year:
The ad takes the softest possible approach to the subject and never uses the terms "abortion" or "pro-life," but its intent was clear, and it generated controversy. Since then, feelings about Mr. Tebow have been a litmus test of political and social identity. If you think he's destined to be a winner, you must be a naive evangelical. If you question his long-term chances as an NFL quarterback, you must hate people who love Jesus.
I only feel safe saying this as a diehard Broncos fan who loves Tebow but these stereotypes have a basis. Of course, they also don't capture the entire range of thought, which we get to later in the piece.
Anyway, the piece gives some fascinating history about how basketball, volleyball and other sports were invented by Christians and a bit about the religious motivation that led them to do that.
One of the under-reported features of Tebow's popularity is that it's nice for parents to be able to point to an athlete who is not flaunting immorality in his day-to-day life. The piece gets into that, noting the career threats of defective character. To wit:
More recently, we have seen the disrupted careers of star athletes like Michael Vick, Plaxico Burress and Tiger Woods—men whose lives in professional sports have been undermined by character faults. Such stories are more common than we realize. For every Michael Oher (Mr. Lewis's subject in "The Blind Side") who overcomes harsh beginnings and makes it, there are many other promising athletes who are overcome by their own worst impulses. They lose, the game loses and fans lose.
And we get a look at the other side of the coin -- folks like Josh Hamilton and Tony Dungy who have support in religious communities. Dodd argues that many critics are driven crazy by "the equanimity and generosity that his faith inspires in him." We are reminded of his mercy and missionary work and given several anecdotes and data points.
Mr. Tebow's acts of goodwill have often been more intimate. In December 2009, he attended a college-football awards ceremony in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The night before, at another gala at Walt Disney World Resort, he met a 20-year-old college-football fan named Kelly Faughnan, a brain-tumor victim who suffers from hearing loss and visible, continual tremors. She was wearing a button that said "I love Timmy." Someone noticed and made sure that the young woman had a chance to meet the player.
Mr. Tebow spent a long while with Ms. Faughnan and her family, and asked her if she'd like to be his date for the award ceremony the following night. She agreed, and the scene of Mr. Tebow escorting the trembling young woman down the red carpet led much of the reporting about the event.
The piece looks at sites that highlight -- if not kid about -- Tebow piety. There's the obligatory reference to Tebowing and I loved learning that the Internet meme was started by a Jewish Broncos fan and that support for the site has come from rabbis who are pleased that prayer in public is being treated favorably. I also loved the mention of a young boy who Tebowed with an IV attached to his arm "Tebowing while chemoing." Also, if you haven't checked out the web site lately, there are some great recent Tebowing pictures uploaded, from wedding guests in front of a wedding cake to an airline pilot in front of his plane.
The discussion of Tebow's eyeblack actualy quotes various Scripture verses, including "Philippians 4:6-7, which reads, in part: 'And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.'" There's actually a really interesting graphic where three of the many eyeblack verses are explained (left).
I liked that the graphic accurately used the word Gospel. I did read one complaint on Twitter from Andy Crouch:
I am nearly sure Tim Tebow does not read the KJV. Why do national media keep quoting from it rather than a neutral modern translation?
I'm not entirely sure we know what translations a given Christian might read in their home but I'm interested in the view that the King James Version is somehow less neutral than another translation. I frequently use King James or New King James when I'm quoting Scripture in my writing even though it's not primarily what I use in my home or church. Not to mention that the particular verses quoted above are quite readable for having been translated centuries ago. Anyway, I wanted to mention this complaint because I'm very curious what other readers think about it.
The final part I wanted to highlight from the piece was a discussion of hypocrisy. I have this friend who is very upfront about his cynicism. He openly roots for both the New England Patriots and Tebow's eventual moral downfall. The article addresses this phenomenon and how we are all better able to handle moral failure than trust in anyone's goodness.
The essay does a nice job of hitting many elements and giving a solid overview of the Tebow phenomenon and the religious angles. (Go Broncos!)