On the somewhat retro topic of Tebowing


I almost never read Cal Thomas’ columns. I find they tend to have a certain sourness about them, whatever the point. Or maybe the expression on his mugshot just inclines me to perceive a sourness.

Whatever the case, I was drawn in to his column in The State this morning by the image of Tim Tebow kneeling.

The main point of the column didn’t interest me much — it was of a certain type, which we see written from the perspective of an ideologue complaining that ideologues of the opposite camp have a double standard, and criticize people of the writer’s camp for doing a certain thing, but don’t criticize people of their camp when they do the same thing. You know what I mean. You’ve read this one a million times.

In this case, he was angry that people who vehemently defend a guy named Michael Sam — apparently someone who people who follow football know all about — did not equally defend Tim Tebow when he was playing the game and taking a lot of flak.

The part of that that interested me was the Tim Tebow part.

And here, I’m going to have to ask you to bear with me as I propose an anachronistic topic. I realize that everybody who follows football, or is really into Culture War stuff, thoroughly hashed and rehashed everything there is to say about Tebow years ago. Well, I didn’t. I get interested in stuff when I get interested in it. Like “The West Wing,” which I will continue trying to interest y’all in discussing until I run out of episodes to watch on Netflix… and probably far beyond.

The advantage to you of a topic like this is that y’all have already thought it out and have wonderfully well-honed, nuanced positions on it. So you’re ahead of me. Assuming you can still remember your positions after all this time.

While everyone who followed football was really, really into taking strong stances on Tebow, I was peripherally aware of him. And what I was aware of was the kneeling thing. The “Tebowing.” Because it was kind of hard to miss, permeating visual media the way it did.

And each time I saw the image, as this morning, I wondered what to think of it. And I was always of two minds, at least.

On the one hand, it’s great that a guy isn’t embarrassed about his faith, and willing to witness to it in public — and in his case, in a considerable spotlight. On the other hand, it was awfully showy and “look at me,” seemingly a textbook example of what Jesus spoke against in Matthew 6:5.

And I find myself wondering whether Jesus’ judgment on this topic was culture-specific. He was speaking in a time and place when public prayer was a way of raising yourself in public esteem. Whereas, as Tebow himself can attest, doing so now subjects you to considerable abuse and ridicule. Especially when you play for a New York team.

Finally, on the third hand (yes, I know this metaphor is no longer working), I like the Tebowing gesture totally apart from theological questions. I’m a big fan of Arthurian legend — I may have mentioned that before — and Tebow’s gesture evokes the kneeling knight, his sword held before him like a cross. Which, to a geek like me who thinks pre-Raphaelite paintings are cool and not at all trite or corny, is appealing.

Thoughts? Or is this just too anachronistic for y’all? If so, I won’t try yet again to get a thread going on the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars…


17 thoughts on “On the somewhat retro topic of Tebowing

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Oh, and by the way — I was going to link to the SNL Tebow sketch that Thomas referred to… but that’s yet another thing that has been taken down from Hulu.

    The intellectual property lawyers at certain major content providers really hate bloggers….

  2. Doug Ross

    Google Jimmy Fallon and Tebowie.

    I agree with Thomas. Tebow scares some people because he is so open about his faith and so positive about it. It’s okay apparently to mock and hate people like him.

  3. Phillip

    The double-standard doesn’t apply to Tebow vs. Michael Sam. It applies to Tebow vs. all the many many other professional athletes who bring God into the sports arena, for example prefacing a post-game interview by making sure to thank God for His help in Team X’s victory, etc. (God apparently not being on the side of the other team that day). There’s a lot of fingers pointing heavenward during games by many players. With Tebow it seemed just a question of degree and perhaps more overt commentary on his part about his faith, but I would agree that to mock him for that more than the public displays of faith shown by other athletes would be somewhat hypocritical.

    But to compare Tebow’s situation with Michael Sam’s is bizarre, and assumes that people would fall into one of two camps: the Tebow-mockers and the Sam-mockers. That’s a false assumption, for one thing. Secondly, Tebow’s faith was a matter of very public record before he came into the NFL, and while his potential pro skills were debated, his faith was never going to be an issue in terms of his draft potential. Was the question ever raised, “would an NFL team draft an openly Christian player?” Of course not. And in fact, he was drafted—in the first round.

    For all the uncomfortable-ness some (both practicing Christians and non-Christians) may have felt about Tebow’s demonstrativeness (the Matthew 6:5 thing you referenced), let’s face it, Tebow is part of the dominant religious portion of American society. Heck, it’s pretty much required to be Tebow-ish to play for Clemson. Cal Thomas can hardly say the same about Michael Sam’s sexual orientation vis-a-vis American society. And besides, you can choose your religion, but you can’t choose your sexual orientation, that’s fact, no matter what some of our medievalist upstate legislator-mullahs would have you believe.

    1. Doug Ross

      It’s a touchy subject. Sam wants to be treated like everyone else but at the same time made sure his celebration after being drafted was captured for the world to see. No other seventh round draft pick had the same media plan.. and then to follow that up with a reality show for Oprah Winfrey Network sends the wrong message. You think that show is going to show all the interactions he has that aren’t homophobic?
      He should have just gone to camp and won a job on the team. Now it’s going to be a circus.

      1. Phillip

        Totally agree with you about the Oprah thing, Doug. I was really disappointed to hear that, given that he had stressed so much that he just wanted to be able to prove himself as a potential NFL player the same as any other rookie. (Then again, he might not make the team, and a football player’s career may be short in any scenario. In our American society, do we begrudge anybody the chance to make as much money legally as they can, when they can?) On the other hand, just acquiescing to ESPN’s request to have cameras ready if/when he was drafted seemed OK.

      2. scout

        “made sure his celebration after being drafted was captured for the world to see.”

        Really, you think that was his doing? I don’t know either way, but my first guess would be that was media taking advantage of the potential controversy.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Well, as you know, I don’t subscribe to the underlying assumption that Thomas’ column is based on — which Phillip describes as the assumption “that people would fall into one of two camps: the Tebow-mockers and the Sam-mockers.” The world is more complicated than that.

      But just as it seems to Cal Thomas that people who view the world as he does are beleaguered (while Phillip sees them as the dominant culture and unthreatened, or what Kathryn would call “privilege blind,” an increasingly debatable description), those of us who don’t see the sphere of political thought as divided in a simple binary way know that we are definitely in the minority. The “you’re either right or left” people shout us down pretty effectively.

      But it seems to me that no thinking person would buy into the simple left-right dichotomy, because haven’t all of us (all of us who think rather than purchasing our ideas off the shelf and packaged in complete sets) been subjected to absurd generalizations that defy who we really are and really think? For instance, people who view abortion as I do are constantly told by the oversimplifiers of the left that we “only care about children before they’re born” — something that is completely untrue, and based on the highly questionable assumption that people who are opposed to legal homicide without benefit of due process would automatically also be opposed to social services. Which I find bizarre.

      But it’s based in the kind of thinking that I saw reflected in a story in the WashPost this morning. It told of how “conservatives” in the GOP want what they always want — ideological purity. It described that in terms of adherence to “bedrock” principles, and it named “strict opposition to illegal immigration, same-sex marriage and abortion” as the examples.

      Which makes me think: What on Earth automatically unites those three concepts? They are wildly different issues with wildly different factors defining them. Why would anyone assume that people who are “conservative” — or choose your label — would automatically line up on all three? It defies logic. Anyone who thinks might agree with one, or two, or — coincidentally — all three. But there is no unifying idea that runs through all of them that would automatically line you up one way or the other. I mean, there could be a vague commonality in that a person might favor “things that I feel comfortable with,” but that has little to do with ideas…

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        It is seldom correct to say “All x believe y.” A more nuanced statement is invariably more accurate.

        I agree with you about Cal Thomas. Why’d you foist him upon us so often back when you were EPE?

  4. Bryan Caskey

    The controversy with Tebow was really more about him not really fitting the mold of the traditional pocket passer that the NFL has. To be fair, Tebow isn’t John Elway or Joe Montana. He’s not going to be a guy who throws accurate, long touchdown passes. And whether you like it or not, the NFL is a passing league. Elway, who was the GM during Tebow’s tenure as a Bronco pretty much assured that Tebow wouldn’t last in Denver.

    But Tebow was hugely popular, based on his multiple national championships at Florida, his Christianity, and his work ethic was above reproach. In the business of the NFL, he probably sold a lot of jerseys, but he was never going to be a great quarterback.

    I don’t think his kneeling in prayer thing was ever really that controversial. Lots of players before had done that. Also, whatever you think about Tebow, he’s legitimately religious. Both during college and while in the NFL, while he could have been having “fun” in his off time, he went to the Philippines to do missionary work.

    He wasn’t controversial while at Florida, because he was winning, and the college game was suited to his skill set. He didn’t suddenly become a Christian when he went to the NFL. He didn’t change – his job requirements did. Ultimately, he wasn’t suited to the new job requirements, and at least in my world, controversy was all about his on field performance. The noise surrounding his being overtly didn’t help him, but in the end, he would have been kept around if a team thought they could help them win.

    As for Sam, I don’t know much other than he played for Mizzou. However, he has the possibility of falling into the Tebow trap, and I see the parallel. He was a great player in college, and he’s now famous for something other than football. Whereas with Tebow it was religion, with Sam it’s his sexuality. Neither of these things have anything to do with their job, which is to play football at a high level.

    Sam now has all the buzz around him because he’s kind of put his sexuality front and center with his thing at the draft. That was probably a bad idea. NFL players don’t need all the distractions and scrutiny of the media ESPECIALLY when they’re marginal players. It’s best if you can just do your job and not be constantly in the spotlight. The business of the NFL doesn’t need additional buzz for individual players. The whole league has plenty of publicity.

    Both Tebow and Sam generate publicity that is social – not football related. It cost Tebow, Could he have made it in the NFL if no one really focused on his Christianity? Maybe. Maybe not. The additional scrutiny didn’t help him, and it won’t help Sam.

  5. scout

    My reactions to Tebow are similar to yours. I don’t have any issues with him personally. I get that his faith is sincere and I see nothing to mock. I kind of wonder about the praying so publicly thing and the scripture you referenced too, but I still get that he means it sincerely so it doesn’t bother me so much. He doesn’t strike me as a hypocrite.

    What actually bothers me more about the whole thing are the people who make such a big deal of the mocking like they have been personally assaulted and feel as if Christians truly are persecuted in this country. Really we are not. People who have that reaction bring the Matthew scripture to my mind faster, especially when they post things on facebook, possibly referencing Tebow or something similar and then insinuate that you are not a true Christian if you won’t like or share it too. I have been tempted to comment on those posts by quoting that scripture but I’ve never had the nerve to do it.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      Yeah, the Christian chain posts….”Share this within x time and something good will happen/ don’t and something bad will happen.” One friend who does this also posts cute dog pix, or I’d unfollow her.


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