'Tebowing' in appreciation

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tim Tebow is the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos, and his Christianity is on open display at all times when he plays football. While leading the University of Florida to two national championships in three seasons (and winning the Heisman Trophy in 2007), Tebow put Bible verse citations -- most notably John 3:16 -- in his eye black on game days. ("Eye black" is the smudge many footballers place under each eye to cut down on the glare from natural and/or artificial light sources.) After he graduated, the NCAA banned all messages on eye black. This 2010 decision was referred to by the media as the "Tebow Rule."

Tebow is arguably the most successful athlete in American history to be homeschooled before going to college. He is the son of missionaries and spent his earliest years with his parents in the Philippines. When Playboy magazine put together its preseason All-American list for 2008, Tebow asked that his name be removed from consideration because the magazine's content was offensive to his religious beliefs. I presume the case for Tebow's "bona fide" Christianity is well established by this point in the narrative.

On Oct. 23 -- three weeks ago today -- Tebow led Denver to an improbable win over the Miami Dolphins in overtime. Trailing by 15 points with less than three minutes to play in the contest, the Broncos came back to win. No team in NFL history had ever come back from so large a deficit with so little time left in the game. When the Broncos pulled off the victory, Tebow went to a knee, put his fist to his forehead, and began praying while his teammates celebrated all around him. This action now has sparked an Internet sensation known as "Tebowing," in which cyberspace users are encouraged to submit their own photographs of people kneeling and praying in various situations.

On ESPN, callers to a sports radio show criticized Tebow after the Miami game. One caller mused with unmistakable sarcasm, "I wonder if Tebow gets down on his knees when he throws an interception?"

When Albert Pujols hits a home run for the Cardinals, he has a habit of pointing to the sky as he crosses home plate -- an acknowledgment to God. This is Albert's version of Tebowing, giving God praise for good things that happen. It is true that the slugger does not replicate the action when he strikes out or commits an error. So what? When a student graduates from high school, we throw a celebration to mark the moment. If that same student draws an in-school suspension for behavioral issues, we don't break out the party horns. The criticism in some quarters of showing appreciation to God for landmark moments is puzzling.

It is telling that neither Tebow nor Pujols has been approached to do a national television commercial recalling their well-known "high-moment" gestures. Yet Aaron Rodgers, quarterback of the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, is featured in a TV ad in which his trademark "championship belt" taunt across his midsection is featured. Like Rodgers, Pujols and Tebow are champions. Yet only Rodgers has a television ad seen nationally mimicking his post-touchdown celebration. Why is that? There is only one answer that makes sense to me. Rodgers' gesture is totally nonreligious; therefore it cannot offend anyone in our increasingly post-Christian and secular society.

Perhaps it is time, in our own ways and in our own life situations, to emulate Tebow and do some Tebowing of our own. It may be time to push back against the relentless cultural drift.

The Rev. Dr. Jeff Long is senior pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau.

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