The Denver Broncos have won five of their last six games since making a quarterback change in midseason, benching veteran Kyle Orton and giving the job to second-year QB Tim Tebow, a first-round draft pick out of Florida where he won the Heisman Trophy in 2007 and the national championship one year later.
Tebow’s religious views — he’s from a conservative evangelical Protestant background — and his pro-life convictions — his mother decided against having an abortion — have made him a lightning rod, both pro and con. Among supporters “Tebow-Mania” has gripped the nation, especially in the Denver area. Critics, particularly in the mainstream media, have piled on the quarterback. As one who is both a Catholic and a sportswriter, I find this all utterly silly.
If you simply evaluate Tebow as a football player in the NFL, it’s a fairly unremarkable debate. There are some — myself included — who believe Tebow’s throwing motion will prevent him from lasting success in the NFL (without going into extensive detail, let’s just say he takes too long to get rid of the ball and NFL defenses are infinitely faster than those in college). There are those — again, including myself — who believe the Broncos’ recent success has more to do with the play of their defense than the quarterback. A look at the final scores and Tebow’s passing stats (to call them mediocre is to be generous) would back that up.
But there’s a flip side to all this. And it’s the bottom line in the NFL. Quarterbacks are judged by one thing: wins and losses. Denver was 1-4 when Tebow was handed the opportunity start. Now they’re 6-5 and have a real shot to make the playoffs in January. If this were any other quarterback that single fact alone would trump all other considerations.
Now I’ve spent most of my adult life and many words on my blog shouting to the heavens that winning and losing is about more than the quarterback, so I suppose I should be happy that the national media has suddenly opened its eyes to my line of argument. But when the national media’s reason for thinking this is to try to undermine someone for being Christian and pro-life, it takes on a darker side.
Just when you think you’ve seen all sorts of thinly veiled bigotry, suddenly even belief in the primacy of defense and the running game in football becomes a sword to beat up a conservative Protestant kid.
What this all boils down to a bizarre circumstance where one’s opinion on Tim Tebow has nothing to do with his ability to play football and is a referendum on one’s views of conservative Protestant evangelism and the pro-life movement. And it’s not just Tebow’s critics. Tebow Mania refers to the legions of dedicated fans who are turning him into a cult celebrity.
Does it make one a secularist heathen to say let’s just play ball?
I hesitate making that argument, because the separation of expressions of faith from the public square is a characteristic of secular liberals and I certainly don’t think it’s wrong for Tim Tebow to give expression to his beliefs. He has the same rights as Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who offered kind words for the “Occupy Madison” protestors last spring. Professional athletes don’t exist just to provide games for the masses, and we shouldn’t ask that they forgo privileges the rest of us enjoy.
At the end of the day, however, I still believe it does no good for the cause of faith to turn a quarterback into a cult celebrity. Protestant evangelicals are much more vocal in proclaiming “Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.” I would argue a Catholic view would involve showing up each day, trying to do your job with some integrity, being a decent person, allowing the natural course of events to make your beliefs known (it’s tough to be around people each day and not have that you went to church on the weekend come up in conversation at least once).
In this circumstance, that means just let Tim Tebow be a quarterback in the NFL. Let fans have an opinion of him as a football player — which is really the only way any of us know him, as the rest is filtered through the media. Stop turning a discussion of his play into a thinly veiled discussion of other things. If we want to talk theology and politics, then let’s talk about them.
Otherwise, stick to football.
I respect Tim Tebow’s beliefs, even if I do think Protestant evangelicals are a little uptight. I agree with his political convictions and find his personal story amazing. But I don’t believe he’s a good quarterback, and it’s time for Tebow’s friends and critics alike to stop tying them all into the same package.
Dan Flaherty’s website, www.thesportsnotebook.com is due for full-scale launch in mid-December, in time for the college bowls and NFL playoffs.