In Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, the football gods have offered up a star that every father in America should be grateful for (provided they don’t root for a rival team in the AFC West).
Tebow is respectful, wholesome, and a man of God. He has no obvious failings besides an inaccurate throwing arm. If Disney were to concoct the plot of a movie about an altogether admirable young man who joins the NFL and is scorned by all the experts for his unorthodox style, yet wins week after week, Tebow would play the lead. In fact, at this point Disney could make it a documentary.
Nonetheless, Tim Tebow is considered “controversial.” It’s now cutting edge to be a straight arrow. It’s countercultural to be an outspoken Christian. A player who embodies everything meant by the cliché “role model” is for his critics a figure of fun, or even hatred.
Tebow is widely mocked for “Tebowing,” praying on one knee before or during games. Imagine Rodin’s “The Thinker” with a football helmet in one hand. Tebow didn’t originate the practice, or single-handedly bring religion to the NFL. If there’s one staple of professional sports in America, it’s players saying prayers and acknowledging God.
The New York Giants famously prayed on the sideline during Super Bowl XXV for Buffalo Bills kicker Scott Norwood to miss a potentially game-winning field goal. Major-league baseball players are always thanking the Almighty for their home runs or their saves. Tebow is more conspicuous about it than most, but a genuflection is quaint compared with, say, post-touchdown dance celebrations worthy of the Rockettes.
An evangelical Christian, Tebow wears his faith on his sleeve. At times during his college career, he literally wore it on his eye black — “John 3:16,” for instance. Tebow does this out of a sense of obligation to his faith. It is ultimately a statement of modesty and, as such, profoundly out of step with a culture of self-glorification and ostentation in our sports and in our society.
When a Detroit Lions linebacker sacked Tebow a few weeks ago, he derisively Tebowed beside the fallen quarterback. Tebow brushed it off. No trash-talking, no vows of revenge.
Peter King of Sports Illustrated calls Tebow “the most polite interview in NFL history.” When he talked to him after the quarterback engineered a comeback against the Minnesota Vikings last weekend, King asked Tebow if anyone had said anything memorable after the game. Tebow told him he had been able in a post-game TV interview to say the name of Blake Appleton, a child with cancer. “That’s what I’m proud of today,” Tebow noted, before concluding the interview: “Have a good day, Mr. King. And God bless you.”