Is “Tebowing” an attack on Christianity?

posted at 7:00 pm on December 4, 2011 by Howard Portnoy

The question that forms the title of this post has been getting a good bit of play in conservative circles of late. It was hinted at in a segment of FOX and Friends on Friday that featured NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton. And it is the main focus of a column by National Review Online news editor Daniel Foster that appeared on Saturday.

“Tebowing,” should the term be unfamiliar, takes its name from another quarterback, current Denver Broncos play caller Tim Tebow. More specifically, the term designates the now-viral mockery of his habit of kneeling down and bowing his head after a touchdown to commune with his God.

As Foster writes with more than a hint of indignation, Tebowing his become an Internet phenomenon, with its own website, a Twitter account, and most recently a YouTube video titled “Tebowing for Dummies.” At such sites, Foster continues:

[Y]ou can see an act of communion with one’s creator rendered as a bit of pop-cultural ephemera, [complete with] pictures of folks striking the pose everywhere from Oxford to Istanbul, with that muddle of irony and enthusiasm that has become my generation’s trademark.

Foster’s obvious pique at these send-ups derives in part from the fact of Tebow’s wholesomeness (he is in Foster’s words “squeaky clean, in a sport that notoriously is not”). Wherein, Foster insists, lies the origins of Tebowing. It is, in short, “the power of Tebow’s evangelical-Christian faith, and the earnestness with which he professes it [that] seems to annoy so many people.”

I’m going to have toss out my red challenge flag here. Foster may be right that for some people, the problem isn’t Tebow’s religiosity but the fact that professional sports are “so filled with clichéd Jesus praise that” fans doubt his sincerity. But I submit that for many who prefer to spend their Sundays watching the exquisite choreography of a perfectly executed screen pass, the problem is Tebow’s self-absorption.

Tebow is free to give “mad respect” to his lord, but I’d rather he do it on his own time. A number of players cross themselves on every play, but they do it discreetly — and expeditiously. Tebow’s prayer timeouts, by contrast, are as gratuitously in-your-face as the most flagrant end zone dance. And they last as long. Yet, according to his supporters, all of footballdom is supposed to give him a pass because his purpose is holy. Isn’t that what churches are for?

Another, subtler, ingredient in the widespread antipathy toward Tebow is that he is an anomaly. His success as an NFL quarterback (he is 4 and 1 since replacing Kyle Orton at the helm of the Broncos offense) doesn’t make sense to diehard football fans. His passing numbers — he has a 45% completion rate — are awful. His team is winning through a combination of razzle-dazzle and offensive schemes that haven’t been used by college, let alone NFL, coaches in two decades.

I am predicting that “this too shall pass” (to cite a proverb that Tebow should appreciate because of its religious roots). Sooner or later all 31 remaining teams in the league will develop defensive strategies to counter Denver’s pre-Knute Rockne offense, and Tebow — and Tebowing — will be gone.

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