Monday, December 12, 2011

Bowing to Tebow

I was telling a friend the other day that the Catholic Church is the last countercultural institution. He scoffed, claiming that his New Age cult was the real deal. Are you kidding?! I asked. Where do you stand on—and I reeled off the issues on which the Pope has stood firm while the culture has caved—? I wish I had thought of Tim Tebow. In fact, as a Catholic, I wish I remembered Tebow more often.

The Denver Broncos’ rookie phenom is not Catholic, he’s an evangelical Christian. But like the Catholic Church at its best, he stands up for God in the public square. Or kneels. Tebow’s square may be rectangular but it is the most public place in America: the NFL gridiron. And yesterday he did it again.

For those who hate on football like my friend Vincent here’s the quick back story: The Heisman Trophy–winning rookie quarterback out of Florida was thought to be the wrong type for NFL success. He runs the option (you get killed in the pros running the option consistently) and his passing style is non-conventional (the ball looks like a drunken duck coming out of his hand). But taking over a 1–4 team in October, he has led Denver to seven wins in eight games following yesterday’s latest miracle. And he consistently has saved his best for last.

Trailing the Chicago Bears 10–0 with less than three minutes to go yesterday, Tebow led the Broncos on a touchdown drive. Then, helped twice by miscues by Bears running back Marion Barber (divine intervention?), Tebow led Denver to a game-tying field goal as regulation expired—then engineered a game-winning field goal drive in OT.

Next he did what he does after every game: he genuflected and prayed (see pic above). Interviewed by Fox TV sideline man Tony Siragusa, Tebow began the way he always does, saying, “I’d like to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

I’d like to praise Frank Bruni of the New York Times for paying attention. Bruni’s article, “Tim Tebow’s Gospel of Optimism,” published yesterday before the win over the Bears, does not exactly praise the Lord.  He notes that Tebow’s “zeal doesn’t go over so well with many football enthusiasts, me included. Tebow performs a sort of self-righteous bait-and-switch—you come for scrimmages and he subjects you to scriptures—and the displeasure with that is also writ colorfully on the Web, in Tebow-ridiculing Twitter feeds and Facebook pages, one devoted entirely to snapshots through time of Tebow in tears. An emotional man, he has traveled a weepy path to this point.”

Bruni turns his op-ed piece into praise not for Tebow’s religion but for the optimism and leadership he has projected, buoying the Broncs:

“He reminds us that strength comes in many forms and some people have what can be described only as a gift for winning, which isn’t synonymous with any spreadsheet inventory of what it supposedly takes to win.

“This gift usually involves hope, confidence and a special composure, all of which keep a person in the game long enough, with enough energy and stability, so that a fickle entity known as luck might break his or her way. For Tebow that state of mind comes from his particular relationship with his chosen God and is a matter of religion. For someone else it might be understood and experienced as the power of positive thinking, and is a matter of psychology. Either way it boils down to stubborn optimism and bequeaths a spark. A swagger. An edge.”

So Bruni maintains a safe distance from organized religion, not surprising in a New York Times guy. But buried in the piece is a noteworthy paragraph:

“The intensity of the [public] derision [for Tebow] strikes me as unwarranted, in that it outdoes anything directed at, say, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, accused repeatedly of sexual assault, or other players actually convicted of burglary, gun possession and other crimes. In a league full of blithe felons, Tebow and his oppressive piety don’t seem like such horrendous affronts at all.”

Can we all just stand in front of that statement for a moment? The NFL, its fans, and the TV commercials that make this national pastime possible worship every false God under the sun. Then we all turn around, clutching our idols, and make a mockery of Tim Tebow’s public expressions of faith. 

This is something we Catholics might remember the next time we shy away from standing up for our Church and, yes, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Compared with the money-grubbing, ass-grabbing culture with which we are surrounded, we could do a better job of standing and kneeling with the only institution big and brave enough to withstand the storm.

As it says in Magnificat today, at the very top of Prayer for the Morning: “Proclaim the greatness of God’s name, loudly sing his praises!”


  1. I don't really understand the singular focus on Tim Tebow's expressions of Faith regarding his sports career and daily relationships. He is hardly the exception. For years we've seen on field post-game prayer circles involving players from both teams. I actually find these brief, humble exercises to be exemplary in that they put the sporting event into a proper perspective as to what is truly important. I also find it interesting that this only seems to occur in football. As pointed out it's a sport (like others) riddled with excess both criminal and otherwise which stands in sharp contrast to the morals of what I'm sure is the majority of those atheletes in the league. Perhaps their public acts of faith are a response to the taint of the bad behavior broadly attributed to NFL players. Oh, and I don't think Our Lord is a Broncos fan. At least i hope not.


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