Sports

Baffoe: Of Race, Religion And Tebow

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Tim Tebow walks off the field after a game against the Detroit Lions. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

Tim Tebow walks off the field after a game against the Detroit Lions. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

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Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa before earning his de...
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By Tim Baffoe-

(CBS)  This is neither an examination of the appropriateness or accuracy of Tim Tebow’s religious beliefs nor whether they are relevant in the athletic arena. Fear not, my children weary of such topics. Your passage here will be safe.

I cannot promise that what follows won’t stir up some sort of emotion in you. I do hope it at least provokes thought.

The fact is, like it or not, there can hardly be a discussion of Tebow the athlete without a sidecar of or a juxtaposition of Tebow the religious figure. He himself has created that intrinsic relationship, both intentionally and unintentionally.

But is it all on him, this theosocioentertainment juggernaut?

Cassius famously said to Brutus in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves…” The Tebow Thing—the aura, the awe, the mystique, the skepticism, and the subsequent headaches—is only possible if given power by the public. The reason the man yelling on the street corner does not make the cover of the newspaper or exist as a topic of debate on talk radio is because nobody buys his stock or chooses to promote, advertise, debate, or expose him.

In his truest form, Tim Tebow, who looks to improve to 7-1 this season as a starter vs. the Chicago Bears on Sunday, is just a guy who loves to play football, is pretty good at it, and just so happens to be very religious. But he has become a poster child. For what depends on which philosophy and tenets every person aligns himself or herself with in regards to that long word I made up two graphs ago and don’t feel like retyping (or risking misspelling, as though one can misspell a made up word that is two minutes old). He is a prophet, a role model, a symbol of disgust, a mere athlete, and various shades of gray in between.

What has been gnawing at me lately, though, is why him? Why is he the stoplight at the intersection of sports and faith?

Tebow is certainly not the first athlete to pray after scoring on a play. He is definitely not the first to profess his faith, solicited or not, in press conferences or magazine interviews. Such a thing has been going on as long as I can remember in my sports-viewing lifetime. Awful athletes to great athletes to bad people in sports have thanked and touted their higher power in some public fashion seemingly since American sports have existed (I believe Mordecai Brown used to gesture to the heavens after each strikeout… or he was giving the batter the finger. Nobody could tell).

In most cases, though, nothing has ever resonated with the greater public. There wasn’t any extensive water cooler talk about a college basketball player thanking God after hitting a buzzer beater in the NCAA tournament. Can’t say I recall hearing anyone seriously debating a Carlos Zambrano sky point at the end of an inning. Tony Dungy often associated his faith with his playing and coaching profession, and yet he never received the scrutiny of Tebow.

Why?

The Tebow Thing was cultivated at the University of Florida, and America was Tebowed well before he was a Denver Bronco. But college sports celebrities—or at least their kitsch—come and go. Even after becoming professionals, fans views of a player change. That kid is no longer odd or fascinating or controversial in most cases because the public gets used to him or her or the media realizes the story only sells for so long. Yet this one will not die for some reason.

Something must be making the Tebow allure endure. Could it be… that he is… white? I would like to think today that a player’s race would have nothing to do with fans’ admiration—or even the media’s attention—but I’m not that naïve.

The lockout and being tucked away in Sacramento killed it, but remember Bieb- I mean, Jimmer Fever? Fredette lit up the college basketball world with his fantastic play. But there are several collegiate players every year who are as good or better than that. So why the hysteria for Jimmer?

Oh, yeah. He has religious beliefs that were not typical of the majority. And he is white.

The political climate in this country cannot be ignored when it comes to this situation either. We live in a very polarizing time in this country, and with the economy, health care, and that bleeping crab grass on my lawn all being issues that everyone is taking sides on, coupled with the first African American president we have ever had, it would be foolish to not believe that any positive racial climate in this country, even if private, even if unconscious, has taken a hit.

Tim Tebow is an Evangelical Christian, and his fellow Evangelical Christians tend to gravitate toward politically conservative ideals. I don’t know Tebow’s political ethos, nor do I want to, but at a time when so many are targeting their various disappointments and frustrations in America toward a politician who just so happens to be black, might it only make sense for those same people to choose an opiate for that negativity—in this case, sports— and more specifically a figure in sports that they see as much the opposite of that target of negativity?

I’m not talking about the ignorant, blatant, need-to-be-eaten-by-badgers racists that live amongst us. Trying to delve into their minds is like walking into an empty warehouse with the walls covered in Brooks and Dunn posters.

But a good-looking, blue-eyed (they’re blue, right? I don’t even know, I swear), polite, charming, humble, God-loving white guy who also happens to play the most important position in sports and does so surprisingly better than most thought he could? You couldn’t script a better hero for thousands of Americans today.

He’s everything a large segment of society wishes they could be or be with. And with every action comes an equal and opposing reaction; thus, you get the backlash against him by many (for the record, I don’t hate the guy. I’m just not convinced he’s any good at his job, 6-1 record be damned).

Mix in egregious media slobbering, and you get The Tebow Thing.

It’s not just about religion, I don’t think, though that is a major part of it for some. I just cannot get past the feeling that if he was not white he would cease to exist as an incessant topic of conversation. I follow a lot of athletes on Twitter, most of them African American. Many of them use social media often to praise God and quote religious text. I haven’t seen any stories on major sports networks about them and their faiths, though. They aren’t individually plastered across sports news coverage daily and nightly.

Maybe I’m way off base here. Maybe I’m not aware of Jewish fans Amar’eing or other Christians Pujol… nevermind. Maybe The Tebow Thing is really just because all the guy does is win… like Pujols has. Kobe Bryant? Kobayashi?

Tim Tebow has received the same public cultish devotion as them, right? Those guys are as polarizing as him, right? Right?

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