He was in the news this week. Again. It had something to do with breaking up with his…girlfriend, right? She’s a model–or maybe Miss America. Miss Universe? At any rate, they broke up, and it was because of his faith. Or something.2
For most people–even most professional athletes–none of this would be news. But Tebow imbues this story with Culture War Significance. Everyone has an opinion on him. Brooklyn secular progressives think he’s a smarmy hypocrite and (probable) bigot. Bible Belt fundamentalists think he’s a role model and hero. And both groups love screaming at the other group about it.
How did this happen? How did a fringe NFL player become a litmus test for worldview?
I have some ideas. But first, I want to confess something: I love Tim Tebow.
Ode to Tebow
I don’t love Tebow like he’s an actual person (I’ve never met the guy). It’s more like the way I love movie characters. Tebow’s like Leonidas in 300, or William Wallace in Braveheart–a compelling character who sometimes does awesome things.
And believe me, the things Tebow did for my Denver Broncos were awesome.
2010 was a dark time for Bronco fans. Elway had been retired more than a decade, and we’d hardly been above mediocre since.
Then came Tebow.
He was such a folk hero in Florida that it felt like drafting Paul Bunyan. But I agreed with the draft experts who thought his playing style wouldn’t work in the NFL. And the fact that my mom literally danced and screamed when we drafted him didn’t change my mind.
But when he started playing, something happened. It was…electrifying.
Don’t get me wrong–he wasn’t good. But he was bad in a cool way. For the first three quarters he would miss reads, dance in the pocket, and overthrow screen passes by ten yards.
Then in the fourth quarter, something clicked. He dodged linemen, bulldozed linebackers, and bumbled our way to victory. Whenever he scored a touchdown, he roared in the endzone like a gladiator. As Russell Crowe might have asked, “Are you not entertained?!?!”
Yes, I was. And I loved it.
What was it about Tebow?
Tebow is electrifying even if you aren’t a Bronco fan. Heck, he’s electrifying even if you aren’t a sports fan. What is it about him that’s so polarizing?
Don’t worry, I have a list:
- He’s sexy. And it’s a specific type of sexy. It’s not just his Captain America body. It’s his farm boy handsomeness. Pro-Tebow girls think he’s dreamy. Their moms think he’s wholesome (and dreamy). And the anti-Tebow people think he’s a country rube.
- He’s charismatic. Again, it’s a specific type of charisma. His squeaky-clean, gosh-golly I’m-just-thrilled-to-be-here zest is polarizing. If you lean pro-Tebow, you’ll find this puppy-dog enthusiasm charming. If you lean anti-Tebow, you’ll probably just think he’s a big phony and go back to reading Catcher in the Rye.3
- He’s a hot-take machine. As a quarterback, he’s unorthodox, inefficient, and *hushed tones* not an NFL starter. But he’s entertaining as heck, and has had enough success to merit our greatest sports cliche: ALL HE DOES IS WIN!!!!!
- He’s open about his faith. I put this reason last because it’s less important than most people assume. Sure, he talks about his faith. But so do lots of athletes–everyone from Jeremy Lin to Russell Wilson to Husain Abdullah to Jimmer Fredette to Derek Carr. Nobody seems to find their faith polarizing. On its own, Tebow’s faith wouldn’t be either.
But that’s the important thing: Tebow’s faith isn’t on its own. The combination of all the factors makes him polarizing. If he was merely handsome and Christian, he wouldn’t get any more press than Derek Carr. If he was just charismatic and unorthodox, he’d just be another Johnny Manziel.4
Tebow is the perfect confluence of factors. That’s why he’s a proxy for evangelicalism.
And none of these factors–handsomeness, charisma, and unorthodox play–have anything to do with evangelicalism.
That’s why I separate Tebow the Athlete from Tebow the Evangelical. Tebow the Athlete is just an entertaining player whose NFL career is (sadly) over. But that doesn’t mean Tebow the Evangelical should be a religious figurehead. He seems about as qualified as the dude who sits next to me in church.
Unfortunately for me (and my Twitter feed), lots of people on the Left and Right disagree.
But I can’t control that. Instead, I’ll just grab the popcorn, play an old Bronco highlight reel, and be entertained.
I love you, Tim Tebow. Sorry about your girlfriend. Or whoever she was…
I’m kind of nervous about this, but I guess we could all share out thoughts on Tebow. *Hides beneath desk*
1 By the way, how about that title? I’ve been practicing my click-bait skills. Next time look for 10 Outrageously Awesome Images You Won’t Believe Weren’t Photoshopped.
2 I heard somewhere that this story may have been a hoax. Or misreported…..Maybe I should actually start reading the news before commenting on it.
3 Because I’m already spouting quasi-controversial opinions: I hate Catcher in the Rye. I’m actually planning a whole blog post on it.Believe me, you do not want my problems…
4 Okay, bad example.