Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has raised a lot of eyebrows with his shows of faith during football games. Tebow, born to a missionary couple in the Philippines, makes no effort to hide his passionate evangelical faith. His characteristic kneeling posture after every game, now known as “tebow-ing,” has become quite the controversy.
“Some think it a wonderful form of evangelical faith; some think it exaggerated posturing,” said Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo, Director of the Research Center for Religion in Sociey and Culture in a recent article in the Washington Post. “A more provocative issue is whether Tebow’s praying and piety cause football victories.”
Although the media spotlight is currently on Tebow, he is not the only professional athlete to profess and exhibit a strong faith. Kurt Warner, former quarterback for three National Football League teams (St. Louis Rams, New York Giants, Arizona Cardinals) is a professing Christian, as are Shaun Alexander, former running back for the Washington Redskins, Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels and Jacob Peavy, starting pitcher for the Chicago White Sox. Each of these men have been publicly criticized for their faith.
Why is the idea of a professional athlete displaying his faith such a controversial one?
Substantially less publicized are Tim Tebow’s expressions of faith off the field. Tebow has undertaken volunteer missions work in the Philippines and even started his own charity organization, the Tim Tebow Foundation. These shows of faith are not the ones that make headlines. It seems that the real controversy is not over the personal faith of professional athletes, but whether it is appropriate to express it during a game.
The anti-Tebow sentiments most likely emerge from either a lack of belief in the spiritual world or from a strong aversion to it. In other words, Tebow-haters either believe Tebow’s public displays of faith are meaningless and therefore an embarrassment to professional sports, or they are threatened by these acts and think Tebow is trying to force his faith onto fans and other players. The former is presumptuous and ignorant, while the second smacks of a childish and unwarranted defensiveness. Both beliefs are rooted in a clear lack of respect.
The issue is not whether Tebow’s “prayers and piety” change the course of the game or the minds of his fans. The issue is whether critics can muster the courtesy to tolerate the actions proceeding from someone’s belief system.
Tebow’s non-religious teammates are not criticized for failing to kneel, so Tebow should not be scorned for the opposite.