I am haunted by Tebow
Sports is an unusual topic for TRC. Though I am a fan of my local sportsball teams and love soccer and watching Twins and Vikings games, I don’t generally give sports much serious thought. It doesn’t matter to me if my team wins five minutes after the match, and that’s about how it should be, I think.
But this is a sports post about that most internet-friendly athlete of the last two weeks. Tim Tebow. What is it about Tim Tebow?
Tebow is not the first outspoken evangelical Christian to make it in sports. He is not the first football player to point to the heaven’s to give thanks for God’s preference that he and not someone else should score a victory point. He is probably the first to star in a pro-life advertisement to run in the Super Bowl, but overall, no, Tebow is not actually that unique: Professional athlete, dating a womand who is perfectly beautiful in that famous person’s girlfriend way, Outspoken Christian, generally seems like a Good Enough Guy. So why does Tebow drive people (myself included) absolutely crazy? I see this picture, and it drives me up the wall. Why?
Tebow is simply fascinating.Tim Tebow fascinates me. His supporters fascinate me. His haters fascinate me. The people who write about him fascinate me. Apparently he was a superstar in college, I have heard. And he is a terrible NFL quarterback, it would seem. People love that he is terrible. People love that he was celebrated so highly in college, drafted in the first round, and might not be any good. Why?
Why does Tebow get the coverage he does? Here’s an article on Tebow as a Protestant Saint. Grantland, the website of excellent sports writing and boring “pop culture” writing, loves to write about Tebow. One thing they have written about him is this:
In broad strokes, it’s fair to say that how you feel about Tebow depends on how you feel about youth groups and Elisabeth Hasselbeck and, I don’t know, WWJD bracelets and raft retreats with a lot of bonfires and swaying. Other religious players are religious individuals; Tebow is a whole culture. It helps that, as an NFL player, he’s both nontraditional and kind of bad, which makes it easy to see his success as guided by a higher power — if a dude with that background and that throwing motion completes a touchdown pass, it almost has to be a miracle.
Tebow is that big of a deal. Tebow is synonymous with on the field prayer. Literally. The word Tebow has become a verb for bowing in prayer in random locations, like a football field. See: Tebowing.com.This has become popular enough that, after sacking Tebow in a game, the Lions’ Stephen Tulloch and Tony Scheffler partook in a bit of light-hearted Tebowing. This apparently caused such a stir that Tulloch took to twitter to clarify that he was not mocking god. For real.
One reason that helps to explan why Tebow drives me batty: It appears that Tebow’s evangelical proselytizing is the most succesful thing about Tebow. Tebow plays football, sure, but Tebow is a Man of Faith. It’s almost as though when discussing Tebow, one must continually use the proper noun Tebow rather than the pronoun shorthand. But what’s the difference with Tim Tebow? Why does enjoying Tim Tebow’s terrible performance on the field make so many people so happy? I don’t think anyone wishes any ill-will towards Tebow. I know I don’t. I think having Tebow succeed in the NFL, and be around for years would give another interesting bit of storyline–like professional wrestling, having the obnoxious character around is great for the plot.
And that’s why I think that Tebow rubs people the wrong way; by playing the good guy Tebow set himself apart as the bad guy. He already wrote the plot before he succeeded in any marginal way as a professional athlete. His strong-man-of-faith principles and devout belief are not problems, they are (for many) the reasons Tebow it to be respected and supported. But that has the potential of becoming the only Tim Tebow. If Tebow were just another athlete who turns out to be a terrible football player in the NFL, religious or not, well, people would forget about him. But now they won’t be able to: TebowMania was already written into the hearts and minds of the faithful by Tim Tebow himself, long before he succeeded, or failed, as a professional football player. And that is something his religion will never be able to overcome. Now let us all Tebow in prayer.