Facing the giants on the field and in the media
Tim Tebow obviously missed the memo. Or he is guilty of poor etiquette. Either way, the young quarterback of the Denver Broncos has become a national fixation, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound, live-action Rorschach test.
What do you see when you see Tim Tebow? His football skills are only a part of the colorful mosaic and source of ongoing debate. Tebow, a former Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Florida, has enjoyed an unlikely winning streak as a second-year pro. After struggling at the start of the season, the Broncos have pulled off a string of thrilling victories, mostly due to the last-minute heroics of Tebow.
But it is not only his technical flaws as a passer, or his relatively slow release, that has stirred much of the mixed emotions involving Tebow. It is the fact that he wears his Christian faith on his sleeve, or even on his face. (While playing in college, Tebow often had “John 3:16” stamped under both eyes. Such messages are not allowed in the NFL or you can be certain he would be serving as a human billboard each Sunday.)
It is not simply that Tebow is a Christian that is making some people uncomfortable. There are many committed believers in pro sports. You will often see them pointing up to the sky after a successful play or gathering for a post-game prayer. Faith and sports have a strong, deep connection.
But Tebow doesn’t play by the unwritten rules of protocol for pro athletes. After a big play, he will typically drop to a knee on the field and bow his head in prayer. A new verb has emerged to describe it: Tebowing. And some of Denver’s opponents have been publicly mocking the display.
In addition, while it is generally tolerated for athletes to generically give thanks to God, the Denver QB is more straight-forward. In fact, Tebow’s faith-sharing is about as subtle as his running style when he has the ball on fourth-and-one.
“Foremost, I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” Tebow typically attests at the start of post-game interviews.
Jesus. Lord. Savior.
Want to see broadcasters and sportswriters start squirming in their seats or running for cover? Just watch someone drop the “J bomb” on them.
But it is not just sports journalists who get uncomfortable. Even within the church, or in conversation among believers, how many times do we hear references to Lord or God while avoiding Jesus Christ? How often do we hear people unapologetically proclaim Christ as Lord and Savior?
In an increasingly secular society, stating a belief in God or a “higher power” is, for the most part, tolerated. Proclaiming an unwavering faith in Jesus Christ – dropping the “J bomb” – is another story.
There is a clarity of purpose in Tebow’s speech when he has a national platform, but his outspoken beliefs have also made him a target.
Recently, former Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer made his discomfort known.
“Tebow, regardless of whether I wish he’d just shut up after a game and go hug his teammates, I think he’s a winner and I respect that about him,” Plummer said. “I think that when he accepts the fact that we know that he loves Jesus Christ then I think I’ll like him a little better. I don’t hate him because of that, I just would rather not have to hear that every single time he takes a good snap or makes a good handoff.”
Tebow’s response was typically low-key and humble, but firm. While acknowledging respect for Plummer, he said he has no intention of softening his approach.
“If you’re married, and you have a wife, and you really love your wife, is it good enough to only say to your wife, I love her, the day you get married?” Tebow said. “Or should you tell her every single day when you wake up and have the opportunity? And that’s how I feel about my relationship with Jesus Christ.
“It is the most important thing in my life, so every opportunity I have to tell him I love him, or I’m given an opportunity to shout him out on national TV, I’m going to take that opportunity.”
Most of us will never have the chance to “shout out” on national TV, but we all have a chance to proclaim our faith regularly, however large or small the platform.
The big question: Are we more concerned with not offending anyone than boldly proclaiming the name of Christ?
I’m not sure how history will judge Tim Tebow as an NFL quarterback but in the big picture that will not be the judgment that matters.
Glenn Hannigan is the editor of the North Georgia Advocate. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.