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tebow, christianity and american sports
by jason gilmore (@JasonGilmore77)
1.11.12
sports

What's that you say? God wouldn't communicate to the world through a football player? Well, if you believe in God, and not just some vague metaphysical entity, but the God of the Bible, then you know He can communicate however He sees fit. (Talking donkey, anyone? A burning bush, perhaps?) And when you think about it, communicating through a sport that commands millions of eyeballs weekly and has the nerve to play it's games on the Lord's day, actually sounds like the way to go.

Do I believe God is using Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow to force us to think about Him? To confront how far a so-called “Christian nation” has turned from our creator? I do. But I also think He’s using me, and millions of other believers. Some of us just have bigger platforms.

And what a platform! Tim Tebow is currently the most polarizing figure in American sports, even more than Michael Vick, Kobe Bryant or Tiger Woods. He is easily the most criticized & idolized young quarterback to ever start an NFL game. Even before he’d played an NFL game, they couldn’t keep Tebow Bronco jerseys on the shelf. And it is that, not his devout faith, many of his critics say, that they can’t stand about him.

They say his fans are blind to his faults; that his fanfare, even after dismantling the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers defense in a playoff game, is disproportionate to his ability; that he is being lauded more for being a “nice guy” than for being a great quarterback.

There is a lot of truth to the criticisms. You don’t become polarizing if there isn’t. Tebow's fans do often go overboard, treating him as though he is Jesus, rather than as a nice young man who happens to play football for a living. And I am not suggesting that all his detractors are at Bill Maher levels of pompous, antagonistic ridiculousness.

But in fairness, never before has a player had to win despite the public and private disdain of his own locker room, coach and general manager. Quarterbacks this great are usually undeniable in their greatness, therefore, there is little to argue. Quarterbacks this horrendous are usually on someone's bench, pretty much forever, until they are out of the league, or forever an afterthought, a journeyman at best.

We all watched in amazement as Tebow, who normally throws spirals like a 10-year-old, suddenly threw pinpoint pass after pinpoint pass to defeat the favored Steelers, a team I have respected & detested for most of my life. Banged up or not, everyone just knew they'd expose Tebow and the Broncos as frauds. Their defense was aligned to stop Tebow's runs and short screen passes. It never even occurred to them that he might throw far down the field and expose a Pittsburgh secondary that's been overrated and aging for years.

But why is he hated? He is not the first professional athlete who has been vocal about his faith in Jesus. Ever heard of Kurt Warner? Larry Fitzgerald? A.C. Green? Orel Hershiser? David Robinson? Charlie Ward? The late Reggie White? Almost all of these men were starters on championship teams, so they weren't exactly obscure. I remember being particularly impressed by Jim Harbaugh once, minutes after losing a heartbreaking AFC Championship game to the Steelers, thanking Jesus after a loss, something I had never seen any athlete do.

And the Harbaugh story speaks to a greater point. For some of us, when you come to know God, you cannot wait to tell people about it because you remember how your life was without Him. And you are thankful, even in the bad times, because you realize that the things this world tells us are important are not. I can’t speak for Tim Tebow, but as a Christian, I find it interesting that people are so annoyed by his love of Jesus.

Entertainers can promote promiscuity, drugs, recklessness and arrogance, and that’s cool, but it’s annoying and overdone when a guy keeps saying, “It’s not about me, it’s about Jesus, and He can give you the peace of mind I have if you give your life to Him.” Upset because Tim Tebow does not subscribe to your groupies, your money, your ever-changing standards of right and wrong? Upset that he could lose everything he has today and go back to his family’s missionary roots in foreign lands without skipping a beat? Fine. Well, I’m upset I can’t scroll through basic cable channels without encountering hard and softcore pornography. So there, we’re even.

Back to football: Are people mad because, prior to the Steelers win, the wins were ugly? Much was made of Tebow’s own coach, John Fox, more or less stating that his entire offensive philosophy had to be thrown out of the window to make way for Tebow's deficiencies as a passer. Still, pre-Tebow, the team was 1-4 with a more prototypical quarterback, Kyle Orton, running the show.

And where were ye, oh ye bastions of all that is aesthetically pleasing, when Princeton's men's basketball team was luring far more talented teams to sleep in the mid 1990s, passing the ball till the last possible second to defeat far better opponents? Or when the Pat Riley Knicks were grinding and fouling opponents into the ground on the way to a 1994 NBA Finals appearance? Turning your strength into your opponent's weakness, is that not commendable? Much of the credit also goes to Coach Fox and suddenly inspired play from Denver's special teams and defense. But football is a quarterback's game, win or lose.

And was that final touchdown pass not a thing of beauty? Everyone on the planet just knew the Broncos would run on 1st down because that's what they always did - and always would do - as long as the worst quarterback in NFL history* was taking snaps. Tebow faked the handoff, then threw a perfect spiral to a slanting Demaryius Thomas who stiff armed the soon to be unemployed Ike Taylor and scampered 85 yards for a touchdown.

My Facebook & Twitter pages went bananas. Lots of exclamation points & expletives!! The few poor saps that don't watch football that dared to post about politics or whatever then were rendered obsolete. Tebow's general manager, the legendary John Elway, pranced on the sidelines, hugging everyone like he knew this would happen all along – the quickest reversal of loyalty since Morris Day cheered Prince at the end of Purple Rain. The players on both sides looked stunned, just like we were as fans.

Having said all this, I fully expect Denver to walk into New England this weekend and lose. Say what you will about New England's coach Bill Belichick, but he never underestimates his opponents. But I won't be shocked if Denver wins. After all, Tim Tebow was told he wouldn't star in college (he won two national titles and a Heisman Trophy), be drafted to the NFL (first round pick), start in the NFL or win a playoff game. So nothing he does on the football field, especially after last week, will surprise me. But he and our President are the only celebrities I pray for. Because people take such vindictive delight in seeing them stumble. And their mission is bigger than their job title.

* - as I was recently told Tebow was, by some guy at my cousin's house a few weeks ago


ABOUT JASON GILMORE

Jason Gilmore is a film director, screenwriter, novelist and unrepentant Detroit Pistons fan. Track him down on Facebook.

more about jason gilmore

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COMMENTS

katherine (aka clevertitania)
1.11.12 @ 2:21p

I don't watch sports, but I see a pattern here.

Much like people who don't have children get sick of hearing about other people's kids, it's highly offensive to some people that you should assume they want to hear about your belief structure. It's also offensive to assume your inability to find porn-free basic cable and your perception of immorality in the world is the result of "lack of faith".

I don't think your (or Tebow's) intention is to be offensive, but it is. No matter how strong your faith is (and more power to you), when the 'faithful' start calling everyone else 'faithless', it's insulting to our intelligence. I do not lack faith, I disagree with your view of the universe, and am entitled to do so without being called a weakening in the USA's moral character.

william carr
1.12.12 @ 9:26p

It is no longer surprising, but it remains disappointing that participants like not-so-clevertitania are "offended" when a Christian gives expression to his (or her) "belief structure." Chesterton said that "the only thing liberals can tell you is what not to believe." "Not-so-clever" has a history of venting her own vapidities, without regard to what the person she is ostensibly responding to actually said. I replied to an Intrepid feature by another contributor, in the hope of a sane and civil public conversation, but instead encountered the interloping "not-so-clever" and decided that I could not pursue a conversation with the original writer, when someone else was determined to interrupt. (I think I am running out of "space," so I'll add another, more positive comment momentarily.)

william carr
1.12.12 @ 9:37p

Now for the positive -- Mr. Gilmore, I appreciate your sober presentation of your reaction to the Tebow-phenomenon. You show balance: you critique those who "go overboard" in praising Tebow's Christian witness, at the same time that you celebrate that same witness. (The only line that you might have left unsaid is the crack about "Bill Maher levels....") What needs to be recognized about contemporary American discourse is that the primary objects of "hate speech" are Christianity and Christians. In a way, that's good: for a while, there was a saying that the "only problem with Christians is that no one hates them anymore." It is of little moment to me whether or not the Broncos get to the Super Bowl. But Tim Tebow is a faithful witness, and an encouragement to shy Christians everywhere.

katherine (aka clevertitania)
1.14.12 @ 1:15a

WC - I have read many articles on IM of people talking about their faiths, and have never claimed offense. Your snide use of my handle not withstanding, what is offensive is the position that the 'perceived' moral degradation of society is the fault of the atheists/agnostics in the world, and when 'non-believers' are treated as people waiting for someone to bring us "god's love." It's a lesser version of Pat Robertson blaming 9/11 on pagans & lesbians, and it's a position taken both by the article and its subject.

Which other conversation your complaining about I cannot speak to, but clearly you're more interested in trying to belittle than converse. So I think you should reexamine your conclusions. I post fairly rarely to essentially being called a 'thread hijacker'.

katherine (aka clevertitania)
1.14.12 @ 2:18a

I should also like to point out that I my original comment was edited to fit in our limited space, but I made absolutely sure to state that it was a tangent and that NO ONE intended to offend ANYONE. For the faithful, the reality of their deity and their gospel are simply not in question, and therefore anyone who doesn't embrace it is clearly misguided and needs their help. It's built in to the gig - despite Joshua 1:8-9.

But it's not "love of jesus" that's offensive, it is the position that atheist's are empty & immoral without it. It's perpetuating no less a stereotype than cheap Jews or terrorist Muslims. Love him all you want, but please don't imply that the 'downfall of society & cable TV' is the fault of people who don't share your faith. I don't think it's an unreasonable request.

jason gilmore
1.14.12 @ 4:09a

Katherine,

I wasn't going to respond at first because you said that you don't watch sports and that's 75% of what my article discussed. Everything else you said was mostly points that we will have to agree to disagree on or things that you assumed about my beliefs that I never actually wrote.

But I was intrigued that you used a Biblical scripture to disprove... the Bible itself, I guess. Joshua 1:8-9 (though it was written to an Israelite, pre-Jesus) is actually a commandment to BE courageous and bold in the face of adversity and persecution, which, as Mr Carr pointed out, is happening to Tebow and Christians all over the world simply for doing their best to live their beliefs. Which was kinda part of the point of the article.

jason gilmore
1.14.12 @ 4:27a

Never mentioned atheists or agnostics or how "misguided" they are. My focus is on God's greatness: any focus I do on misguided people would have to begin with me. Here's what I do believe: That God & man were once closer and that was severed due to man's disobedience. God has given us a chance to rectify that through giving our lives to Jesus, who died for our sins. If you disagree, that's on you, but like anything else that I'm happy about (like my daughter, whom I guess I can't talk about either, per your initial comment), it's hard for me not to bring it up if the door opens for that discussion.

I can't say more because you never told me what you do believe, only what you don't. If you'd like to share more, in a forum more conducive than this one, I'm easy to find.

katherine (aka clevertitania)
1.14.12 @ 12:48p

Jason, thank you for addressing my points in a respectful manner.

With Joshua I was referring the "shall not depart out of thy mouth" admonishment. Not to disprove, but to make the point that even the bible discourages pushing your faith on others.

My point was that you're defending open Christianity by attacking its mirror. By implying that artists who promote drugs and promiscuity are "cool" with non-believers (despite half the slap-the-ho-up rappers thanking JC as much as any sports figure) it suggests that the non-believers are responsible for the what you coin "ever changing standards of right and wrong." That is a generalization I, for one, do not appreciate. Much like a Mormon wouldn't appreciate me blaming mass cult underage marriages on them as a group.

katherine (aka clevertitania)
1.14.12 @ 12:59p

That is the last I will say, because this is one of those conversations where I feel the person at the start of it, while in no way intending to offend, simply isn't aware of the implications of their words. And that can only degrade further.

As to moving to another forum to discuss what we both believe, I have no need for such conversation. I do not feel a need to spread my views of the universe to others - they're for me to live by, no one else should be expected to. I know some disagree (I know as many "loud" Atheists I assure you), but I believe a personal view should remain personal. I make no attempts to hide that I am an Atheist, but that is simply because I endeavor to live in a country where no one's faith affects our law/government. THAT I believe in.



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