Two days ago, a friend of mine put up a provocatively titled new post in which he dared to ask the question: is Tim Tebow a hypocrite? Now most of you probably know who Tim Tebow is, but on the chance that you do not, let me take a moment to fill you in. While there are many Christians in the National Football League (NFL), Tim Tebow has made a name for himself by regularly dropping to one knee in a moment of prayer. He does this so often and so publicly, that “Tebowing” has actually become a word in common use. To “Tebow” is “to get down on a knee and start praying, even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different.”
So why am I sharing this with you? Well, I want you to look at something. My friend’s website is actually a very small blog, much like this one. And on a typical day, a new post by my friend will attract an average of 9 readers, only 1 of which will take the time to comment. But on the day that he posted this question about Tebow, 149 readers were drawn to the article, and 27 comments were made.
Why? Because he dared to question an “evangelical icon” in light of Matthew 6:1, 5-6, which reads:
“Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.”
Now, today, less than 24 hours after Tebow’s victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, I am seeing something else that is worthy of note. When Tebow comes to town, evangelical fans of the home team are finding themselves in a bit of a quandary. Many have become so attached to the emerging legend that is Tim Tebow that they actually find themselves torn as to who they should support. Do they root for Tebow and his “platform” or do they root for the team that has occupied their hearts for many years?
Today, as we consider this phenomenon together, I want to ask several questions – many of which are particularly poignant in light of Tebow’s defeat of the Steelers. For you see, the Pittsburgh Steelers are also quarterbacked by a famous individual; and like Tim Tebow, this individual entered the league talking about “platforms” and “evangelization.”
Have you ever heard of Ben Roethlisberger? If you have, it’s probably because of the allegations of sexual assault that have been made against him, not once, but twice. And while neither incident has been prosecuted due to a lack of compelling evidence, there seems to be little doubt in the “court of public opinion” that Roethlisberger is guilty of “something.”
But take a look back at his rookie year? What was his first infraction of the NFL code of conduct? Not binge drinking. Not sexual indiscretions. No, Roethlisberger’s first infraction came when he tried to write “PFJ” on his football cleats? And what does “PFJ” mean? It means, “play for Jesus.” That’s right. When Roethlisberger first entered the league, he, like Tebow, wanted to be known as a man who stood for Christ. In fact, in a 2005 interview that aired shortly before the Super Bowl, he was quoted as saying:
“Sometimes you’re handed an opportunity to speak that you don’t even know you’re going to have. Only God could have brought me from third team as a rookie to a starter and Rookie of the Year … You don’t have to listen to what I have to say, but I will always have the opportunity to glorify God in all that I do.”
Later, in 2005, on the heels of being disciplined for the “PFJ incident,” Roethlisberger went on to say:
“I had to be a little more careful after that, but I’m always going to express my faith. Guys express all kinds of products here in the league, so I’m going to keep expressing my faith … It’s not tough be grounded in your faith, when the Lord is helping you. He has brought me through some tough times and I know His hand on me won’t slip.”
Really? Do you think Roethlisberger would still say that today? Do you think he still believes that “It’s not tough to be grounded in your faith?” I ask because when I look at his picture to the right, nothing jumps out at me speaking of the ease of faith. So, as I said earlier, this brings me to a host of questions that have been bothering me all season long:
- Why do we insist on elevating young, publicly visible athletes to a position of spiritual authority in this world?
- Why are we so quick to push Scripture aside when it calls into question the actions of a publicly visible Christian?
- Why do we believe that the power of the Gospel needs a “platform” of fame and adulation to be heard?
- Why is it that an article on Tim Tebow gets 149 hits, but an insightful article on American Christians living within the context of an empire receives a fraction of the attention? What is it about celebrity that draws Christians and non-Christians alike?
 Another part of the Tebow phenomenon is the media’s insistence that every win or loss be discussed almost exclusively in terms of Tebow’s performance, and rarely the performance of the Denver Broncos team as a whole.
 Another feature of the Tebow spectacle is his consistent use of the word “platform.” Tebow sees football as a means of evangelizing the world. Inherent in that word “platform” is the idea that he has been given an elevated status within society.
 On April 12, 2010, district attorney Fred Bright announced that Roethlisberger would not be charged, by saying: “Looking at all the evidence here, I can not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt”. “D.A. Fred Bright Transcript plus the Post-Statement Interview”. National Sports Review. 04-12-2010.