The Tebow Wars

Stay with me, and continue reading.  You haven’t accidentally wandered from Pastor Warner’s blog to a sports columnist’s page!  Right up front, I admit that I’m taking a bit of a risk, but I am doing so with my eyes wide open.  I’m going to talk a lot about sports, and I realize not everyone is “into” sports.  However, many who are, love their sports and can be quite passionate about their team(s), bordering sometimes on the irrational!  If you want to have some fun, and maybe start a fight, just say something like, “the Dallas Cowboys are America’s team!”  Raiders, Patriots, Bears, Dolphins or Bronco fans will quickly go ballistic (can you say Richard Rubi)  :).  This is true whether we’re talking about football (professional or college [SEC football is “religion”), baseball (Red Sox vs. Yankees), basketball (Lakers vs. Celtics), English Premier League soccer (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool or Man U), Aussie Rules Football (West Coast Eagles or Geelong Cats) What you find is that emotions can easily override all else for many.

I’m not a football analyst and I don’t even play one on TV!  I know I’m stepping outside my comfort zone or area of expertise, but even if you’re someone who is casually aware, it’s hard to avoid the phenomenon which is Tim Tebow,  Along with being a Heisman Trophy winner as a sophomore, he led his Florida Gators to two national championships, and was drafted in the first round of the NFL draft by the Denver Broncos, where he currently plays quarterback.  He has become a staple of sports talk radio and television discussion, a venue that thrives on strong opinions and controversy.  In the social universe or the “Tebow nation” they’ve even coined a word for his public acknowledgment of Christ; they call it Tebowing.”  Where all of this is ultimately coming from is the fact that Tim Tebow is also an outspoken Christian athlete.  Hence, some of the headlines like, “Tebow gets a miracle” or references to him as “the chosen one” etc.

What can’t be denied in all of this is that he has become a very polarizing figure.  There seems to be not a lot of middle ground: you have the “Tebow haters” and those with “Tebow mania.”  “Inside The NFL” commentator, James “JB” Brown teased a segment about Tim Tebow for the show saying, “This is a guy that you either love to hate him or you hate to love him.  What is it about him that folks are so polarized?”  My own theory is that in our culture, Christians are one of the last groups where it is totally cool to go off on.  Read on.

Here’s what caught my attention and piqued my interest, which will hopefully become clear as a spiritual issue, worthy of our pondering.  What is the explanation for the intensity of opinion and emotion either way, for or against him?  It’s pretty stunning to observe the vitriol-like reaction to him, and much of it is not about his game, but it is personal!  Sure, they can talk about the fact he is slow to set up, read the defense, release the ball; or he has poor mechanics and lacks accuracy as a passer, but there’s something more at work.  One of the first major incidents involved an ESPN football analyst, Merril Hoge, who literally went on a rant against Tim Tebow that caused many raised eyebrows.  This is by no means an isolated event either.  Sports writers and football fans have critiqued and mocked Tim Tebow, as if they are almost hoping for him to fail?!  One sportswriter compared Tebow’s confidence that he will start in the NFL to blasphemy.  The “Daily Show” comedian, John Oliver, declared, “I dislike Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwean dictator). I hate Tim Tebow.”  For instance, in his first starting assignment against the Miami Dolphins, the first three quarters was anything but pretty or polished.  His stats were abysmal.  Then, he engineered a comeback in the final 2:44 minutes, down 15-0 to force overtime, where the team pulled out an 18-15 victory.  It’s the largest deficit overcome in a victory with less than three minutes since the 1970 NFL merger.  The strange crowd mixture of lovers and haters moved from chanting “Tebow sucks” to the fourth quarter’s melody of “Tebow! Tebow! Tebow!”

So, my question is WHY, what’s at work here?  My contention is that it is because of his Christian faith and lifestyle.  Jelisa Castrodale, commentator, argued: “The NFL’s other backup-turned-starters don’t generate this type of negativity.”  CBS analyst and former San Francisco 49's offensive lineman Randy Cross blamed the media for anti-Tebow coverage: “People, especially the media, root against him because of what he stands for.” “Inside The NFL” analyst and former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Collinsworth concluded that much of the hatred against Tebow was based on his religious beliefs.  Responding to all the fodder over Tebow’s treatment in the media he admitted, “It’s unbelievable, though, JB, that one of the best kids - just pure kids that’s ever come into the NFL - is hatedbecause of his faith, because of his mission work, because of the fact that he wears it on his sleeve, because of the fact that he lives his life that he talks about.”  His co-host, James “JB” Brown pointed out: “There are a number of guys who come into the league with a big marquee, fat paychecks, a lot of attention, and folks don’t seem to hate them with the same intensity that they hate Tim Tebow.”  In their back and forth discussion, Collinsworth concurred with him, “I couldn’t agree with you more.  And it’s kind of a sad commentary, that, you now, if someone is out carousing every night, the Joe Namath thing (“Broadway Joe”), or whatever, they’re American heroes, and Tim Tebow, who’s working in missions in Asia somewhere, is a guy that we’re going to vilify.”
The vitriol directed against Tim Tebow should not really come as a surprise given how religion and people of faith are frequently treated in the media, which often seeks to remove any mention of religion from public life entirely, including sports.  In my mind, this is a fatal dismissal since the Bible reminds us, “Blessed is the nation [individual] whose God is the Lord.” An anti-Christ spirit is definitely loose in the world!  Remember back to all the furor during last year’s Super Bowl and the commercial ad promoting “Celebrate Family and Life” which was largely a testament to Tim’s mother, and her decision not to have an abortion even though hers was a high-risk pregnancy.  Regardless of your beliefs or your football loyalties, at least concede that Tim Tebow’s story is a good one, and inspirational as well.  Uhhmm, were they making that kind of stink over’s sexually provocative commercials during the same Super Bowl! See what I mean?

What we’re looking at is the unavoidable reality for any Christ-follower, because any true Christian’s faith is part of the conversation!  It is, after all, the most defining and influential aspect of a person’s identity and lifestyle.  Jesus made this crystal clear in (Jn.15:18-21) NLT "If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? 'A slave is not greater than the master.' Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you. They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the One who sent me.”  If life for you is about always being popular and accepted, then following Jesus Christ will be a very difficult exercise!  In response to one critique of Tim Tebow by Boomer Esiason, evangelical blogger Howell Scott wrote, “In this life, we face ridicule and scorn for following Christ, whether on the football field, in the boardroom or, yes, even in the church house.  For Tim Tebow and the rest of us, when we are ridiculed and made fun of because of the name of Jesus, might we hear the master say to us yet again: Blessed are you!”  The choice for every Christian in whatever station of life is that if you live the life, you can’t turn it on and off like a light switch whenever it’s convenient.  No, it’s a daily constant.  Blogger and fan Everette Hatcher wrote: “He had to make a decision when he went into the locker room: Do I live two lives?  He decided to talk his faith with him into the locker room.  He has lived one life, and I strongly respect that.” 

This remind me of the classic story of evangelist Billy Graham playing golf in a foursome with then President Gerald Ford, golf legend Jack Nicklaus, and another PGA pro.  The golfer was especially in awe of playing with Ford and Billy Graham (since he regularly competed with Nicklaus before).  After the round was finished, one of the other pros came up to the golfer and asked, “Hey, what was it like playing with the President and with Billy Graham?”  The pro unleashed a torrent of cursing, and in a disgusted manner said, “I don’t need Billy Graham stuffing religion down my throat.”  With that he turned on his heel and stormed off, heading for the practice tee.  His friend followed him as the angry pro took out his driver and started to beat out balls in fury.  His neck was crimson and it looked like steam was coming from his ears.  His friend said nothing.  He sat on a bench and watched.  After a few minutes the anger and the pro was spent and he settled down.  His friend said quietly, “Was Billy a little rough on you out there/” The pro heaved an embarrassed sig and said, “No, he didn’t even mention religion. I just had a bad round.”  The lesson here is that Billy Graham was so identified with his faith, so associated with the things of God, that his very presence brought a realm of conviction to those around him.  It was Martin Luther who said “the pagan does tremble at the rustling of a leaf.”

Even with his detractors and the nay-sayers, there’s no doubt as well that Tim Tebow has plenty of advocates as well.  Jen Floyd Engel who writes for on MSN published this open letter. 

From: Jen Floyd EngelTo: Jason Whitlock, columnistCc: John Fox, John Elway, Doubting Sports Thomas’s Everywhere Whitlock, I hate to come at you at a time like this when you must be hurting, your favorite current NFL quarterback, Donavan McNabb benched again.  This time for an unproven rookie, Christian Ponder, because what you man was throwing out made the Vikings abandon their playoff hopes a little more than month into the season.  Go figure.  McNabb is the only quarterback in the history of ever who made Rex Grossman look like an upgrade.  Sorry.  I need you to stop mourning McNabb’s failed career for a second and answer a question that has been gnawing at me ever since you gleefully joined the non-believers dissing Tim Tebow: Why?  Why do you – the last remaining holdout in the Jeff George fan club – refuse to concede the league might be wrong about Tim Tebow?  You believe in hopeless causes, Jeff George and Donovan McNabb.  Why not believe in the man who inspires hope in Denver and in sports fans who like their stars warm and fuzzy?  You called me out in your column.  Mel Kiper, Jimmy Hohnson, Merril Hoge, the 24 NFL teams that passed on Tebow in the Josh McDaniels – predicted epic fail for this guy.  You know what all of those people have in common?  They are wrong all the time about players.  They dissect how a guy throws, how far he throws, what he looks like, what his throwing motion looks like, how fast he runs, how much he runs, what he looks like when he runs, his stats, his combine numbers and they forget how often these numbers are wrong, how often the can’t-miss guys do and how the Wes Welkers keep finding their way to prominence.  I do not know if Tebow is going to be a great quarterback.  What I do know is I am not willing to bet against him.  He’s a winner.  He’s inspiring.  He has it, whatever it is.”

So, what conclusions can we take from all this?  It’s doubtful if Tim Tewbow is going to silence his critics, especially after last Sunday’s performance and loss to the Detroit Lions.  One potent reminder here is that life is not done by the numbers alone, it’s more than just “scoreboard.”  There’s also the dimension that includes the “intangibles.”  Whatever your opinion of Tim Tebow might be, the facts and story of his life tell us that he is a “winner.”  Jen Floyd Engel wrote: “This is the thing everybody is missing about Tebow.  The guy was not a pretty thrower at Florida, either.  He won because he was a great athlete and a massively serious competitor.  He won because of the great athletes around him and his ability to lead them. He won because he had guts and toughness.  And, yes, he won because of his faith.  The two cannot be disconnected.  It is part of who he is.”  I read that this is what Lebron James tweeted about Tebow’s performance, “He’s a winner.”  I can’t help but think of the testimony of the unpolished, rag-tag early church that says “AND GREAT GRACE WAS UPON THEM ALL.”  What Luke is describing there are the intangibles: a quality and dimension beyond just numbers, box scores and depth charts.  A dimension of God’s grace upon a person and church’s life is very, very real, even if you can’t fully explain it.  There’s always been something at work in men (women) of principle that many dismiss or don’t understand or are uncomfortable with. 

One parallel story that illustrates this same convergence of sports and religion is “Chariots Of Fire.”  This was the 1981 Hollywood story of the British Olympic track team leading up to the 1924 games.  Specifically, it focused on the Scottish runner Eric Liddell the son of Scottish missionary parents, who is a very principled man of God and an astonishingly fast sprinter with a lot of doubters.  He is competing in the 400 meter event, and just before the race the American coach basically tells his runners not to worry about Liddell because the dude is not good enough.  In the film, another American runner Jackson Scholz says “Watch out for Liddell.”  Another American runner responds, “Coach says no problem.”  To which Scholz replies, “He’s got something to prove, something personal, something guys like coach will never understand in a million years.”  In the continuing film narrative Scholz walked up to Liddell right before the 400 and handed him a piece of paper with a verse from (1Sam.2:30) “He who honors Me, I will honor.”  Lidell won, of course, griping the note in his hand the entire way around the track.  He was not the most talented.  He was the most driven.  Sort of like our discussion over Tim Tebow!

The other conclusion is that I don’t know if Tim Tebow will ever become one of the premier quarterbacks in the NFL, but what I do know is that either way; he has a life that will extend far beyond that stage.  Paul writing to Timothy made this plain, (1 Tim 4:8) "Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.”  Top that one!  As long as Tebow continues to follow Christ and His Word, he will succeed in God!  (Joshua 1:8) gives us the formula, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”   I remember personally seeing “Chariots of Fire” for the first time.  I distinctly remember that for me the most moving part of the entire production was at the end, when the video was done, and the screen went black with white letters stating how following the 1924 Olympics he went to serve in North China as a missionary from 1925 until his death in 1945.  We’ll leave that part of his story and testimony until another time.  What spoke to me powerfully was the goals and service and sacrifice he embodied outside of the world of sports!

I’ve got to admit that all of this has turned me into a bit of a fan of Tim Tebow.  I’d like to see him succeed and beat the odds.  If nothing else, there’s an incentive to pray for him that his testimony remains steadfast on the NFL stage.  Oh, by the way, I WANT EVERYONE TO BE ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN ABOUT ONE THING:  there’s coming a day when everyone will be “Tebowing” and taking a knee!

 (Phil.2:9-11) states, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

So, we’ve come full circle.  Whether you’re a sports fan or not doesn’t matter.  What does matter is giving Jesus Christ His rightful place in your life as both Savior and Lord.  The time to start practicing “taking a knee” is right now and not later!