The NFL football season begins today – and with it, we can expect another round of attacks on New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow. There are plenty of legitimate questions about the former Heisman winner’s suitability for the NFL. But the most strident assaults on Tebow typically have nothing to do with his completion percentage, and everything to do with his Christian faith.
Back in 2011, NFL analyst and retired Bengals wide receiver Cris Collinsworth explained that some of the roots of the anti-Tebow animus were faith-based: “It’s unbelievable, though, JB, that one of the best kids – just pure kids that's ever come into the NFL – is hated because of his faith, because of his mission work, because of the fact that he wears it on his sleeve, because of the fact that he lives his life that he talks about.”
Yet it’s true – Tebow’s unembarrassed Christianity has earned him derision and even hatred.
Men’s magazine GQ was the latest to take a shot at “Gang-Green’s” backup quarterback, with a September cover story titled “Have You Accepted Tim Tebow as Your QB and Sunday Savior?” GQ, without Tebow’s knowledge, also used an altered picture of Tebow from his college days with his arms in a cross shape – sparking yet another quarterback controversy. .
Sportswriters are as secular as the rest of the media, and often aggressively seek to purge faith from sports. Just about any Christian athlete who dares to express his or her faith face media scorn for their witness.
But Tebow is the lightning-rod. There are legitimate questions about his playing ability, as there are with any high-profile player, and about the excessive media coverage that many sports outlets give him. But the attacks don’t stop there.
Anti-Tebow comments have sometimes taken absurd forms, such as when the editor of infidelity website Ashley Madison guaranteed that “no man of Tebow’s stature could survive a season in New York without succumbing to the temptations of the city.”
Others have charged Tebow with hypocrisy, as when radio host Craig Carton accused Tebow of being a “fraud” who “clearly thinks he is Jesus” on his Aug. 14 show. Or attacks can simply devolve into vile displays of bigotry, as when CBSChicago.com sportswriter Dan Bernstein called Tebow “little more than an affable simpleton” and his followers “lunatic-fringe cultists” and “batspit crazy fanatics.”
The most deranged attack on Tebow came from Rabbi Joshua Hammerman, who fulminated in Dececember 2011 before the Broncos-Patriots football game: “If Tebow wins the Super Bowl, against all odds, it will buoy his faithful, and emboldened faithful can do insane things, like burning mosques, bashing gays and indiscriminately banishing immigrants.”
Tebow’s been giving secularists fits since college, when he won two NCAA championships with the Florida Gators. Tebow’s moved on, but anti-Christian pressure on the NCAA hasn’t.
OutSports editor Cyd Ziegler recently demanded that the NCAA strip Christian-owned Chick-fil-A of its sponsorship of college games in the Huffington Post, because the president of Chick-fil-A upheld the traditional Christian stance on marriage. Ziegler complained that the Chick-fil-A logo was a symbol of “oppression, inequality, and legalized discrimination.”
Football was not the only sport in which Christians faced the mockery of the secular sports media – even Olympic athletes were not spared the anti-Christian animus. Left-wing website Salon.com slammed gold medal winning gymnast Gabby Douglas for being “so, so, so into Jesus” and complained that “even when Douglas is merely expressing her personal philosophy, posting #christmotivation quotes in her Twitter feed or talking about how she meditates daily on Scripture, there’s always that lurking hint of proselytism.”
New York Times sports reporter Jere Longman wrote a vicious hit piece about Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones published just before her race, mocking her for being “whatever anyone wants her to be – vixen, virgin, victim.” Longman then snidely remarked that she was a “30-year-old virgin and a Christian. And oh, by the way, a big fan of Tim Tebow.”
A virgin, a Christian, and a Tebow fan – to the secular left, three strikes against her.
The media also deride faith-based opposition to same-sex marriage in the sports world and seek reprisals against those who would dare to back traditional marriage. ESPN.com writer Gene Wojciechowski went further, calling for the firing of Nebraska football coach Ron Brown: “if he continues to confuse faith with a person’s fundamental right not to be discriminated against.”
What exactly is the “fundamental right not to be discriminated against,” anyway? Politically-correct rights concocted by sports journalists apparently trump arcane rights such as freedom of speech or religion.
NASCAR driver Blake Koch found out about that when ESPN dropped his ad for a non-partisan voting registration group called “Rise Up and Register,” in large part because Koch dared to promote Christianity on his website.ESPN argued that since “Rise Up and Register” linked to Koch’s website, which in turn linked to (gasp!) Christian ministries, and to “Be My Vote,” a voting campaign targeted to pro-lifers, the ad did not meet the network’s guidelines and could not be sponsored.
An athlete can lead an unsavory life or even be a criminal and win a pass from the media (just Google “NFL police blotter”). But outspoken Christian athletes face a media blitz against their faith.
Paul Wilson is the Joe and Betty Anderlik Fellow in Culture and Media for the Media Research Center.