Notable Christian (and unnotable quarterback) Tim Tebow is everyone's favorite topic of sports conversation, and, more importantly, the topic of this exact conversation over and over again:
GUY: "God, Tim Tebow is shitty."
OTHER GUY: "He keeps winning!"
GUY: "He throw ten passes a game, connects on four of them, and the Broncos' defense does all the work to keep them in the game so that he can 'drive them to victory.' He's such a sanctimonious toolbox."
OTHER GUY: "Oh, so you hate him for being Christian!"
GUY: "No, I hate him for being bad at his job and still having thousands upon thousands of people who cheer for him because he bows down in reflective prayer every time a camera's around. I hate him because he's played awful team after awful team, barely beat them with help from a defense that has to work its ass off every week, and he's still supposed to be a star despite being Mark Sanchez with a Jesus piece."
OTHER GUY: "I think that says more about you than about him."
It's that last line that's utterly infuriating. The NFL is rife with quarterbacks who've won despite not adding much to their teams – they're competent guys who aren't asked to do much and deliver exactly that. Trent Dilfer won Super Bowl XXXV as the 31st-ranked quarterback in the league, because he had a great defense. Terry Bradshaw is a hall of famer whose career QB rating is 70.9 - he was basically just good enough to not screw up his team's amazing defense. Brad Johnson won a championship with the Buccaneers, mainly because of (you guessed it) his team's stellar defense.
The phenomenon of mediocre game managers steering teams to victory is nothing new. But in the case of Tebow, it is. You placing him in that category says more about you than about him…as Jen Floyd Engel is happy to remind us.
What if Tim Tebow were a Muslim?
Imagine for a second, the Denver Broncos quarterback is a devout follower of Islam, sincere and principled in his beliefs and thus bowed toward Mecca to celebrate touchdowns. Now imagine if Detroit Lions players Stephen Tulloch and Tony Scheffler mockingly bowed toward Mecca, too, after tackling him for a loss or scoring a touchdown, just like what happened Sunday.
I know what would happen. All hell would break loose.
Stinging indictments issued by sports columnists. At least a few outraged religious leaders chiming in on his behalf. Depending on what else had happened that day, they might have a chance at becoming Keith Olbermann's Worst Person In The World.
And there would be apologies. Oh, Lord, would there be apologies — by players, by coaches, possibly by ownership with a tiny chance of a statement from NFL commish Roger Goodell.
You cannot mock Muslim faith, not in this country, not anywhere really.
Awww…she has a sad because Muslims don't get mocked for being kind of crappy athletes whose popularity is due entirely to their preening displays of faith. Here's a list of famous Muslim athletes. In case you were wondering, not a one of them followed up scoring a basket or having a good round by pulling out a mat and praying to Mecca, because to do such a thing would have been kind of dickish.
His religious fervor is an easy target for the vitriol spewed from those who dislike him, but the reasons are much deeper than that. From his advocacy of abstinence to his infamous “You will never see another team play this hard” speech at Florida, it is like he is too good to be true. He is too nice, and thereby we want him to trip up so we can feel better. We want him to be revealed as a hypocrite, and when that fails to happen, we settle for gleefully celebrating his failures on the football field. And why? Because he dares to say thanks?
No. It's because he's not that good. And, more importantly, it's because he's built up this cult of personality that tells us we must root for his success because he's such a good person and, by extension, such a better person than us. It's not the negative reaction to Tebow that's an indication of moral weakness or a character flaw; it's the breathless worship and reflexive moral superiority that we're supposed to imbue to the 47.5% of passes he completes.
What this whole repeating cycle of Tebow — rip his game, mock his faith, rise to his defense, repeat — has revealed about religious discourse in America is ugly. We have become so enamored of politically correct dogma that we protect every minority from even the slightest blush of insensitivity while letting the very institutions that the majority holds dear to be ridiculed. And this defense that Tebow invites such scrutiny with his willingness to publicly live as he privately believes calls into question what exactly it is we value.
And herein lies the problem. Tim Tebow's value to people like Engel isn't the charity work he does. It isn't to the teammates he supports, or the fans he sends his love to. Tebow's value is that he lets people like Engel feel like enlightened victims of a society that doesn't see how good and pure she is. Tebow is the newest scapegoat in an old saga: the besiegement of true believers (or those who want to be true believers) by society at large.
If there is a problem with mocking Tim Tebow, it's that he makes it too easy. He wants the slings and arrows of the world trained on him when he does Super Bowl commercials for Focus on the Family; he is the victim whenever someone makes fun of his signature kneel. That victimization feeds into the legend of Tebow and his flock, and makes him all the stronger even as he continues to be a poor man's Donovan McNabb (who is, at this point, his own poor man's Donovan McNabb). It doesn't matter what he does on the field, it just matters that he's morally superior while he does it.
Tim Tebow, as far as I can tell, isn't a bad guy. He's just a sanctimonious pseudo-dick whom a great number of people think can do no wrong because Ephesians is rattling around his head instead of his receiver's route. His sin isn't bowing to God on the field; it's empowering religious and cultural forces who've spent decades mercilessly mocking others to, once again, claim they're the victims in all of this.