Denver lost to New England yesterday, which is no surprise given that the Patriots are an excellent team. Yet when I read sports stories about the game, they focus on “a lack of Tim Tebow‘s heroics” as if a quarterback known for leading fourth quarter comebacks will be able to lead one every game. Even Joe Montana, who was one of the best quarterbacks ever, who (to my disappointment!) led the 49ers over the Bengals in the Super Bowl by a last minute drive, did not always succeed in a fourth quarter comeback. I do not remember the press complaining then. Why is there so much hostility, among members of the press and among some NFL players, to Tim Tebow?
Religion, specifically Tim Tebow’s open Evangelical Protestant faith, is the source of most of the hostility. Although many NFL players are public about their Christian faith, to American secular society Tebow seems, to the generally secularist media and to those NFL players who are either secularist or outside the Christian tradition, to take his faith too far. I have mentioned more than once on this blog the late Father Richard John Neuhaus‘s reference to the “naked public square” in which religion, specifically Christianity, is eliminated from American public discourse and relegated to a private realm. No scholar of religion in his right mind believes that religion is a private matter, since a religion scholar realizes the public implications of being religious. Only a fool can ignore thousands of years of history and his own common sense and say that “religion is just a private matter.” Even John Locke (1632-1704), the epitome of a Classical Liberal thinker, did not go that far.
Today those who relegate religion to the private sphere are usually hostile to religion in general. Ironically, they are not as hostile to Buddhism, Hinduism, or Islam as they are to traditional Christianity, perhaps because of the strong influence of Christianity after the Second Great Awakening at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries, on American culture. This strong influence continued until around the mid-1960s and then slowly began to wane, especially among the intellectual classes and among other opinion leaders. Sportscasters in the past tended to be a bit more traditional than most other journalists, at least from my reading, but that is no longer the case.
Tim Tebow has violated the fundamental rule of secularists–he not only discusses his Christian faith openly, but he does it often. He may well connect his abilities to God–there is nothing wrong with that–if God created everything, all abilities are gifts, whether the gifts be carpentry skills, medical skills, teaching skills, or football skills. If Mr. Tebow said he has special favor from God for being religious, and therefore his team wins because of God, that would be going too far–but as far as I have heard he has not said those things. Too much has been read into his statements by the media and by some NFL players. Mr. Tebow has every right to express his Christian faith, just as other players have a right to express whatever their faith (or lack of faith) may be. To condemn Mr. Tebow for being so open about his Christianity is a form of unjust discrimination against expressions of Christian faith. It is wrong, and members of the media need to control their snide remarks concerning Mr. Tebow’s faith–or at least admit that they are editorial comments. I doubt that a Muslim, a Hindu, or an Orthodox Jew would get the same treatment from the media, even if a football player who adhered to these religions was open about his faith. I may be wrong on this point and am open to correction. From my impression, as American society continues to go the European route of secularization (as evidenced by a sharp drop in weekly church attendance in the last ten years), secularists are going all out to try to shame Christians to stop them, or at least slow them, from expressing their faith in public. It is sad that such hostility has now extended to sports journalism and to some of the players in the NFL.