With Tebowing now part of the Internet lexicon, and with Tim Tebow a hot topic in sports, I thought I should publish an old, unedited post about Tim Tebow. Well, it was inspired by Tebow, and would’ve ultimately been about Tebow, but the post never got around to him. I shelved it because I wasn’t sure of the tone, the direction, and how expansive I wanted to be with the post.
When I originally wrote this post, almost three years ago in January 2009, it was two days after Tebow led Florida to the 2008 National Championship. I had wanted Florida to lose so Christians’ weird hope, fascination and worship of Tebow would fall to the wayside. I never had any issue with Tebow, it was the ridiculous hype surrounding him that was not created by him.
I’m amazed at how Tim Tebow has made handled his fame with such maturity and humility. Considering how annoying the over-the-top adulation of him is, the guy is solid. I want nothing but the best for him.
Christianity and sports has, more often than not, been uneasy. Originally I wanted to cover that, but as I delved into it I saw the potential for a long-winded post. I even added “stream of consciousness” at the outset. Perhaps someday I’ll write a post that examines the partnership of Christianity and sports, but until then consider this post a rough cut.
I think ambivalence is the best word when I come across famous Christians. Usually you see athletes who are outspoken in their Christian faith. Granted, their outspokenness is usually confined to “giving thanks to God” after a touchdown or a victory where they claim “God’s will” for the outcome. Cynicism reigns from sportswriters who see the public posturing of these athletes as saints, but also see the hypocrisy that inevitably comes to light. It’s not that we shouldn’t allow for people to make mistakes, I think everyone can understand that, but when these athletes pontificate from their position of superstardom it opens them (and ultimately Christianity) up to attacks. How so? Because they will be watched like hawks.
Despite a number of high-profile Christians failings, most Christians still get excited for the superstar Christian. Dare I say a number of Christians put their faith in this individual. I’m not sure it’s on the same level of Christians putting their faith in the “Christian” politician, but it’s in the neighborhood. Even those that aren’t Christian, some of them want to believe in good and do so in part by believing in an individual’s story. I’ve been listening to Jim Rome consistently since 1996 and one of the moments on his show that sticks out to me is when Evander Holyfield’s private life came public. Most were aware of his Christian faith on his way to becoming heavyweight champion because he talked about it a lot. He even had scriptures stitched into his boxing trunks. Evander appeared to be a solid guy who did the right thing. But then it came to light that Evander, who was married, had something like five children out of wedlock with four different women. Something crazy like that. I remember listening to Jim Rome talk about it and the mixture of disappointment and disgust. Disgust at a guy not being ” a man” by being a loyal, committed father and husband, but the disappointment at a guy who had not walked according to the life he had told others to live by. I didn’t care about Evander Holyfied at that moment, perhaps I should have, but I did care about Jim Rome and others. Because while there are a number of cynics, deep down I think people want to believe in those rare athletes who are great and also good people. Why are so many cynical now toward the superstar athlete who gives credit to God? Because the past is littered with Evander Holyfied types.
What’s even better is Christians abandoning the athlete when he isn’t a celebrity anymore. Christians are some of the worst frontrunners around and they’ll latch onto anyone who is remotely famous, or (even worse) remotely Christian, because they put their faith in them. Remember Danny Wuerffel? Does that name ring a bell? He was the Heisman winning quarterback of the 1996 Florida Gators who was also a Christian. In the lead up to the Sugar Bowl a number of Christians were clamoring for Florida to win the game because Wuerffel was a Christian. I decided to root for Florida State. A college group I was a part of at the time almost had a groupthink when it came to supporting Wuerffel. When word got out I wasn’t cheering for Florida to win the game, I was questioned about my lack of support for a Christian brother. Now, how many players do you think were on each team? Let’s go with 100 on each team. Are we to believe that Wuerffel was the only Christian playing out of 200 players between Florida and Florida State? That would be idiotic to think that. The only reason we knew of Wuerffel being a Christian was due to a number of factors. (QB, Heisman winner, nice, white, etc.) What if Florida State had more Christians on their team, by this idiotic groupthink that permeates most Christians you should have cheered for Florida State.
So, one girl in the group came up to me and was almost apoplectic that I wasn’t cheering for Wuerffel/Florida in the game. She hit me up with the “Wuerffel is a Christian, why aren’t you supporting a Christian?” My response? “Bobby Bowden, the head coach of Florida State, is a Christian. I’ve decided to support him, and thus Florida State.” She had no idea how to respond to that and was tongue-tied. Bowden wasn’t the popular Christian to support, that was Wuerffel, but no one would want to cop to that. So what is your reasoning then? You have none, just like most Christians at the time. They just wanted to be linked to a frontrunner, the “it” Christian at the moment.
Well, Wuerffel and Florida won the game, Christians everywhere were happy (well, I wasn’t) and then they disregarded Wuerffel as soon as he became irrelevant in the NFL. And, along came Kurt Warner.
Kurt Warner was almost too good to be true. Remember his heyday from 1999-2001? He might as well have been the pope to many evangelical Christians at the time. His backstory, his humble nature, he looked the part, his amazing play on the field, the MVP’s, the Super Bowl win…Kurt was the hope of many Christians. I liked Kurt, but also didn’t like him. It wasn’t his fault I didn’t like him, it was due to the demagogue ways of Christians toward him.
Once again I played devil’s advocate toward the “it” Christian of the moment. And, once again people couldn’t understand why I’d want the Patriots to win. Also, being a Red Sox and Celtics fan I wanted the Patriots to win and I liked the story of the underdog Patriots, led by then backup Tom Brady, going all the way. I still remember the confusion from one individual I watched the game with because I wasn’t cheering for the team with the “Christians”. I was firm and quick in my response. “How do you know there aren’t any Christians on the Patriots?” The response? Paraphrasing, “God can use the Rams’ victory for the glory and expansion of His Kingdom.” So now we are deciding what is best for God’s kingdom in the outcome of a football game. How convenient…and incredibly arrogant and naive on our part since we aren’t omniscient.
Well, you know what happened. The Patriots came back to beat the Rams in one of the most thrilling Super Bowls ever. I wanted to know, all those Christians who were claiming God was in the works with Kurt Warner and the Rams, how it was God’s will, what were they thinking when the Rams were beat? Were they then claiming God’s will when their savior didn’t win another Super Bowl? (No Christian athlete ever claims God’s will when they lose, but they sure do when they win.)
Of course, over the years Kurt Warner’s “it” factor has subsided with Christians as he has been injured and bounced around from team to team. Christians are ready to latch on to the next celebrity, or hoping some celebrity becomes Christian. (How many times did I hear Christians hoping Michael Phelps was a Christian this past summer? A lot. Hey, I’d want him to be a Christian as well, but for different reasons. You know, for his salvation instead of looking to him to be my witness of Christ to the world…or because they’d want to receive his tithe.) What’s interesting to me is I’ve become more of a Kurt Warner fan since 2001. Why? Because he’s still the same guy. He still plays hard, he doesn’t quit, but more importantly his faith is still apparent. The stories (that have leaked out) of his love, service and generosity are amazing even though he isn’t the football player he once was. I like that because to me it shows his commitment and integrity.
End of rough cut
Almost three years later this topic still gets me fired up. I have a problem with Christians who look to celebrities to do the work of every other Christian. I have a problem with Christians deifying the latest Christian celebrity. I have a problem with the Christian athletes who proclaim Christ until difficult times. I have a problem with Christian athletes who think they are the exception to God’s rules because of who they are. I have a problem with Christians who discard Christian celebrities as quickly as they latch on to them. I have a problem with Christians thinking a team is a Christian team because of one or two players. I have a problem with Christians not supporting the less famous, but often more committed, Christian athletes on any given team. I have a problem with Christians getting upset when you don’t support a team even though it has a prominent Christian athlete on it. (Whew.)
I hope Tim Tebow continues to grow, and mature, in being a good example of Jesus to the world. I hope he proves his critics wrong on and off the field.
Anything else? Yeah…Kurt Warner is awesome. I hope and pray there are more athletes like Kurt Warner that play with excellence, live life in an honorable way, stay loyal and committed to their family, serve others and reflect Jesus as best they can.