Tebow wars march on

Another day, another article on the outrage over Tim Tebow's publicly expressed faith and the backlash towards those who are outraged.

It's a strange cycle, since the more people hate Tebow, the more people love him (and vice versa). And then there are those that hate that there's still a discussion about his faith. The New York Times has a new piece that shows that even though the Broncos quarterback is not the first athlete to publicly express his faith, he seems to be getting an extra burst of attention this season.

While Tebow is not the first openly religious athlete, the circumstances surrounding his performance this season are so unusual, the N.F.L. is experiencing a rare, if not unprecedented, religious feud. The latest chapter in the Book of Tebow played out Sunday, when he threw two touchdown passes in the Broncos’ upset of the Oakland Raiders, perhaps saving his status as the starter, but not ending the larger debate.

“The role religion plays here is enormous,” said Kurt Warner, the former N.F.L. quarterback and a similarly outspoken Christian athlete. “When somebody professes their faith, and I was that guy for a long time, people automatically think when you praise God it’s because He makes passes go straighter or helps win games. When you lose, they say, your faith doesn’t belong here. Your God’s not helping you win.”

The piece does a nice job of adding context from other athletes and analysts that illustrate why the quarterback is so polarizing. You combine the question of whether he's a good quarterback with the question of whether his expressions of faith are annoying to some, you get an explosive debate perfect for the internet.

To his most fervent supporters — and there are many — Tebow was never just a quarterback. He was a champion of Christianity in shoulder pads, a wholesome, fearsome football player who loved God and touchdowns, in that order. If detractors found Tebow preachy, if he seemed too good to be true, he still won two national championships and a Heisman Trophy at the University of Florida, securing his legend as one of the greatest college players ever.

Drafted last year by the Broncos, he played sparingly his rookie season. Now, his struggles to adapt to the N.F.L. have changed the tenor of the debate around him, made it nastier, more personal, more intense. Supporters have reacted to criticism of Tebow as an indictment on religion, while detractors seem to delight in every wayward pass.

While the story does a nice job of giving a basic overview of the debate and offers some theories for why we're seeing the perfect storm, there were a few portions of the article that could have been improved.

Just last year, Tebow drew national attention for his antiabortion commercial broadcast during the Super Bowl. In the past three weeks, he has become the most discussed and most polarizing figure in sports, strange territory for a replacement player on a last-place team.

Actually, remember how the 2010 Superbowl commercial said nothing about abortion? People might have made inferences based on Tebow's story, but it wasn't an "antiabortion" commercial from a policy standpoint. Also, maybe this reporter discovered the war surrounding Tebow three weeks ago, but as far as I can tell, it has been going on since the commercial, escalated again at the beginning of the season and then reporters began to notice even more when he began starting for the Broncos.

Online, the torrent of mockery and criticism has been fierce. Blog posts included “God explains why he let Tim Tebow fail” and Twitter exploded in hateful vitriol, to which the Sports Illustrated writer Joe Posnanski mused: “I believe Tim Tebow isn’t an N.F.L. starter and I want him to prove me wrong because I believe he’s a great guy. Is that allowed?”

In sheer volume and intensity, the comments section on an ESPN article best captured the storm known as Tebow mania. They ranged from critical to crude under the theme “X is > Tebow,” with X being “eating your kids” among the options, as moderators struggled to delete the escalating venom.

There's something about this section of the piece that makes me chuckle. Guess what, folks. Religion does really well on the internet! I just don't know that looking at the comments section on an ESPN article is the best way to measure how the entire country feels about Tebow, since it's a fairly selective audience that comments on articles. People feel pretty passionately about public expressions of faith, so it's not really startling to see vitriol expressed on the interwebs.

Tug of War image via Shutterstock.

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