The Complexities of Tebowing

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.



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5 Responses to The Complexities of Tebowing

  1. Ibrahim says:

    Some of the most interesting articles on Tebow I’ve read have looked at the particularly nuanced relationship between his religious and sporting performance; there’s an emphasis on “faith” and “belief” on these different levels or in these different spheres that nevertheless fuse, being performed simultaneously, because Tebow himself is such an unlikely success story and flirts so often with defeat before those 4th quarter comebacks. Chuck Klosterman and Roy Johnson say much the same thing in this regard; Tebow’s sporting success gives one faith because there is no rational explanation for it. I mean if he was simply a consistent, dominant player like Aaron Rodgers, or just a forgettable chump like Tyler Palko, I think it would be a very different phenomenon. So like any (seemingly) secular situation in which religion erupts, there’s interesting questions of quite particular form and context.

  2. Kate says:

    Kenny- This is an excellent analysis on how Tebow’s overt religious grandstanding causes a visceral reaction among American audiences. Reading your reflections on the ‘Tebowing’ phenomenal, I posed this question to myself. Tebow’s behavior bothers me on multiple levels. His behavior highlights the tenuous relationship I have with my religious identity. Historically, a majority of Christian theology is based upon the concept of God acting in history… but does God intervene in such superficial aspects of public life such as football games? Why should I be made so uncomfortable by this concept? This concept engenders in me the same feeling I get when I read about the Prosperity Gospel movement or see ‘Blessed’ car tags in the Target parking lot. This ‘blessed’ or ‘chosen’ mentality smacks of religious hubris and seems very ‘unChristian’ to me. Who should be the most appalled by Tebow’s behavior? Other Christians and Tebow’s teammates whose skills are being overshadowed by Tebow Mania! Some Christians might view Tebow’s antics as unsavory but remain silent because his actions are a means to a common Christian end, conversion of non-believers. But as a Christian, my question is… if someone converts to Christianity because Tebow is winning football games, what does this make the Christian god? The god of a poor Jewish holy man crushed under the wheels of the Roman Empire or a powerful god of the Roman Empire who blesses the warrior Constantine? Posed with this question, the American football stadium looks to me all the more like the Roman Colosseum. As your post suggests, such media often tells us more about our own taxonomy of religious categories than anything about Tebow’s own religious standing. Thanks, as always for writing, and for bearing with my zealous rant here!

    • Ibrahim says:

      such media often tells us more about our own taxonomy of religious categories than anything about Tebow’s own religious standing.

      Interestingly, what annoys many people is not that TT claims God is on the side of the Broncos, that’s more an assumed Evangelical position, but his suggestion – as Dodd argues in the WSJ article – that it’s ultimately a trivial pursuit he’s engaging in. You could imagine and Ecclesiastes-style rejection of the “vanity” of it all. This is then implicitly undermined by TT appearing to thank God after plays.

      It suggests a kind of showboating, a professional discourtesy, coming from a guy without a proven record. He’s succeeding, but then dismissing his team’s success and other team’s failures as unimportant. So he appears to be trying to have his piety and eat it to.

  3. Kate says:

    Hi Ibrahim,

    I like your view of Tebow’s actions as a type of ‘professional discourtesy’… I guess one way to undercut the power of Tebow mania is to not be a party to any of it. If Tebow is championed by viewers that only prolongs his showboating… and if viewers condemn him it will feed into a martyrdom/persecution complex. I guess I should start praying for the Broncos to lose. 🙂

    Take care,

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