Benner/Sports and Opinion and Sports Business

BENNER: With Broncos' Tebow, gridiron meets gospel

November 26, 2011

I wear a gold cross on a chain around my neck, but try not to wear my religion on my sleeve. When it comes to faith and the deity, I believe what I believe and allow others to do the same, even if that means not believing.

Some would call that a cop-out, pointing to Scripture that says believers must evangelize. Perhaps it is. But I just don’t feel comfortable pushing my faith on others.

Or maybe I just don’t have the internal fortitude that some have.

Take Tim Tebow, for example.

While we have a constitutionally mandated separation of church and state in this country, some also believe there should be a separation of church and sports.

Tebow, the Heisman Trophy winner and quarterback on a national championship team at the University of Florida, has been working miracles—no pun intended—as the starting quarterback with the NFL’s Denver Broncos.

A lightning rod for criticism among experts who believe he does not have the overall abilities to be a successful NFL quarterback—mainly, he’s too short and he throws the ball too poorly—Tebow has responded to those critics on the scoreboard.

After being named the Broncos’ starter, he led the team to four victories in five starts. The fourth win, Nov. 17 at Denver, came after he justified his skeptics with three-and-a-half quarters of poor play replete with horrid passing, only to stick it to the naysayers by leading the Broncos on a 95-yard game-winning drive that was a remarkable blend of Tebow runs and passes.

I was in Denver, before and after that game. The Tebow Talk is every bit as omnipresent there as the Peyton Manning-Andrew Luck conversation is here.

Only Tebow has supplied an additional twist.

Deeply religious, Tebow has never turned away from professing his Christianity. At Florida, he even wore “eye black”—those dark patches athletes often wear below their eyes—with an inscription of a Bible verse (John 3:16). The NCAA, by the way, has since banned such practices.

At Denver, Tebow has taken to occasionally kneeling and praying after plays, and it has earned him widespread notoriety. The practice has even been given a name, “Tebowing,” while also becoming a staple on the Internet, where fans and even a few fellow professional athletes have posted photos of themselves kneeling a la Tebow.

In a game against Detroit, the Lions sacked Tebow seven times and linebacker Stephen Tulloch, after his sack, mocked Tebow by kneeling and pretending to pray.

To his credit, and true to his character, Tebow took the high road with regard to Tulloch.

“He was just celebrating, having fun with his teammates and I don’t take offense to that,” Tebow told reporters afterward.

I suppose another way of putting it would be that Tebow exercised one of his Christian principles by turning the other cheek.

It’s nonetheless interesting to witness the reaction to Tebow’s displays, especially in the NFL, where outrageous forms of celebration following sacks, touchdowns, catches and often merely routine plays have become part of the norm.

It also should be noted that, following virtually every NFL game, players from both teams gather at midfield for prayer. And certainly across the wide array of sports, we often see other athletes kneel, display the sign of the cross, or give thanks to God in their post-game remarks.

So why has Tebow been singled out? Well, he is a quarterback—the most attention-grabbing position in sports—and a controversial one, at that. The national discussion over his merits as a player leads to additional discussion about his overt Christianity.

We are also a world of cynics, and I’m certain many wonder if this guy is simply too good to be true. After all, one of his proclamations while at Florida was that he would remain a virgin until he got married. He also refused to be included in Playboy Magazine’s preseason all-American team. He has spent time as a missionary in the Philippines. He is, by all accounts, a humble, hard-working young man who excels in the intangible quality of leadership.

Others will determine whether he has long-term viability as a starting quarterback in the NFL. But as a person, I think Tebow is worthy of looking up to—even when he’s kneeling down.•

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Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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