Brady, Manning worshippers: Football is our religion, Tebow. Don't mess with it.
Americans expect religious rhetoric from GOP candidates, not quarterbacks like Tim Tebow. That crosses a line into divisiveness. Football brings people together: Your denomination might be Giants or Patriots, but we're all the same underneath.
The past few weeks have been a Tebow-free zone. In the absence of wondering if divine intervention plays a role in NFL games, Americans have been able to go back to making gods of ordinary heroes like Tom Brady and Eli Manning.Skip to next paragraph
It seems there’s no middle ground on how people feel about Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow – more famous for his public displays of Christian faith than for his passing skills. He’s either a messiah or a pariah, depending largely on where you fit on the evangelical scale.
If you tend to believe America needs more traditional Christian values, Mr. Tebow is a rush of fresh air. If you prefer religion to be something that happens behind closed doors, he makes you a bit nervous.
I’m from the behind-closed-door school of religion. Some of that may be because my faith, Judaism, is not an evangelical faith. In fact, when a person wants to convert to Judaism, the rabbi’s first job is to try to talk the person out of it. Evangelical Christians such as Tebow, on the other hand, are called to be missionaries.
So part of the divide on the way people view Tebow is cultural and religious. And you see this divide playing out in all sorts of arenas. In politics, for example, evangelical candidates tend to talk about God and faith a lot more than other candidates.
My friend Seth, an attorney and passionate defender of the First Amendment, is not fond of Tebow’s proclamations on national television. While Seth would be an eloquent defender of Tebow’s First Amendment rights if called upon, he cringes when Tebow thanks his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in an interview.
But it’s funny: Republican candidates have spent the fall saying the same things Tebow says – and on national television during a debate season that contained almost as many contests as there are game days in the NFL season. But while very few commentators seem troubled by the candidates’ very public displays of faith, hundreds of articles have been written during the same time criticizing Tebow’s evangelical behavior. And not just on ESPN.com but in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, too.
What is it that rankles so many football fans about Tim Tebow’s outspoken evangelicalism? The answer, it seems to me, is that for millions of fans, football is our religion. And you can mess with our politics, but don’t mess with our religion. Americans have come to expect religious rhetoric from Republican candidates this season. But they’re not used to the same coming from their quarterbacks. That crosses a line. It’s not that football fans necessarily mind Tim Tebow’s missionary zeal; they just want to keep it out of the purity of their sacred Sunday ritual.