While Denver Broncos’ quarterback, Tim Tebow, has drawn increasingly sharp criticism, satirical imitation, and downright scorn for his public displays of faith, as well as the emergent movement he has inspired (note the picture of a young women “Tebowing” beside a fire truck), it is worth considering the larger social and moral contexts in which Tebow’s public displays, well as our judgments about them, occur.
As Eric Ball nicely points out, Tebow has received considerably more criticism than other NFL players accused of serious moral and even legal offenses, such as Pittsburgh Steeler’s quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, now twice accused of sexual assault. “In a league where a player gets arrested seemingly every week,” Ball writes, “people are infuriated with the way Tebow must always dedicate his first sentence of an interview by thanking his lord and savior Jesus Christ.” But Tebow does other things besides “kneeling to one knee for a quick prayer after scoring a touchdown. He does charity work in the Philippines in the off-season.” More, he is not demanding that others engage in his religious preferences, but only doing so himself.
Lastly, without necessarily intending to do so, Tebow has himself become a kind of highly positive inter-religious resource. It is not just Evangelicals that celebrate him. He has drawn the admiration of Jewish, Muslim, and even Atheist groups as well. As Fox News reports, some local rabbis have come to include Tebow in their weekly sermons as an example of someone for whom “God is actively involved in his life,” and whose uplifting story is not unlike that of “Jacob wrestling with uncertainties… He’s not the most accurate thrower in the world, and he obviously has questionable NFL quarterback skills, and yet he doesn’t doubt himself,” and he succeeds! Khaled Hamideh, of the Colorado Muslim Society, likewise counts himself a Tebow fan on both football and religious grounds. “I know I’m a Muslim and he’s a Christian, but I admire somebody who thanks God for everything that he gave him.” Perhaps most surprisingly, while Atheists generally hold theistic prayer to be “about as useful as an amulet during the Black Plague,” some have come to see Tebow’s freedom of religion as conceptually linked to their own freedom from religion. “[I]f I have the right to stand up in public and say there’s no gods or devils or heaven or hell,”explains Boulder Atheists co-founder Marvin Straus, “he has the right to kneel in public, as long as he doesn’t insist that other people join him.”
If, then, there is something important at stake for us in morally assessing the public displays of Tim Tebow, broader considerations like these would seem to be relevant to such assessments.