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.”
Raised by missionaries and home-schooled, Tebow sets off cultural tripwires. He says he’s a virgin. Feminists were outraged by a gently pro-life Super Bowl ad he did with his mom about her troubled pregnancy when she was carrying him. But as writer Daniel Foster notes, what is most off-putting to some people about Tebow is his utter lack of irony and sheer earnestness. Doesn’t he know life isn’t a 1950s sitcom? Can’t he leaven his impossible goodness with a few readily identifiable vices? You can almost hear his critics urging him, “Shut up already about God, and please start failing.”
By any reasonable standard, though, Tebow is a blessing. He won’t be getting arrested for groping a woman at a Halloween party (Julian Edelman), for accidently shooting himself with the Glock he smuggled into the dance club (Plaxico Burress), or for running a dog-fighting ring (Michael Vick). He won’t be taking performance-enhancing drugs. He may or may not continue his success on the field, but he will do everything he can to respect his teammates and his God.
Here is a prominent player who will almost certainly never require fathers to make awkward explanations to their kids about some spectacular scandal. Rejoice, America, rejoice.
— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: [email protected] ©2011 King Features Syndicate