Artur Davis: Response #1
A couple of observations based on what others have said:
Rod Jetton and Ron Granieri ask the plausible question why Tim Tebow has engendered so much buzz when religiosity and good works in the sportsworld are pretty common; Dirk Meneffee at CBS’ NFL Today asked a similar question on air, in response to Terry Bradshaw’s rave about how Tebow is providing inspiration to a hero starved culture. It’s a sore subject, by the way, in some sectors of the African American community, who recall Reggie White and a host of other black athletes who aided young people and celebrated their faith every bit as enthusiastically as Tebow without the fame or the credit.
We’ll save for another day a foray into the differences in how black and white athletes are covered by the media (Robert Kahne sort of goes there in his observations about the lack of acclaim for Cam Newton, whose rookie season only produced more passing yards than any rookie QB in NFL history, and who is a superior quarterback and athlete to Tebow, but has received a fraction of the attention that Tebow has garnered–then again, Tebow wins games, and in improbable, breathtaking ways, a characteristic that has eluded Newton at the professional level).
I do think, however, that Tebow’s faith has garnered more interest than his predecessors because it seems to have a larger worldview around it than just sports. As Rod Jetton recalls, Reggie White was unabashed about his faith, even practiced as an associate minister, but if memory serves, Reggie White never ventured into the secular realm of public policy. Similarly, when Kevin Durant, the single best player in the NBA today, opens his post game interviews by thanking God for giving him the opportunity, it seems heart-felt, and often touching, but it is as apolitical as it could be. Tebow follows a bolder path–he made an ad promoting the pro-life cause; he endorses abstinence; and he comfortably appears in conservative forums like Mike Huckabee’s and Sean Hannity’s programs on Fox News.
In other words, there are generally two kinds of devout public Christianity. One celebrates God for his generosity in bestowing talent and reshaping lives; its a thankfulness for being gifted and successful, or for being a winner. It is rarely controversial because it asks little of the audience that hears it. The other kind of overt devotion, however, is one that links God to a very specific vision of how this world ought to be ordered; it absolutely asks something of its audience–namely, that it rethink its values and realign them in order to get right with God. Tebow seems to straddle the line between the two, and as Robert Kahne argues, some of his admirers would rip the line down completely, and would be happy to make Tebow their most public champion.
Who knows what Tebow’s politics are? Because, as Jonathan Miller reminds us, younger evangelicals are less right-leaning in their politics than their parents, I would not be surprised if they were actually unpredictable and nuanced, in other words, kind of where much of the country is. But his faith, however, seems to be weightier than a catch-phrase, and frankly, stronger, than a motivational tool (I though it a little demeaning when the New York Times’ Frank Bruni wrote a lengthy column describing Tebow’s faith as just another form of feel-good positive thinking).
So, once again, I think the young man is worthy of celebrating. But the celebration should acknowledge what is unique about the way he wears his faith. I suspect he wouldn’t have it any other way.