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In Tebow We Trust

From The Scrapbook

Jan 23, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 18 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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Few athletes in recent years have made football as compelling to watch as Tim Tebow. The guy throws wounded-duck passes for three quarters, and still finds a way to win with overtime heroics, even though his player stats suggest that a victory is impossible. 

Photo of Tim Tebow praying at a football game

Of course, proclaiming his Christian faith on and off the field has made Tebow controversial to say the least. Sandra Fish, who teaches journalism at the University of Colorado, asks this supposedly provocative question at the Washington Post website: “Tim Tebow: Would we love him if he were Muslim?”

Fish proceeds to draw a baffling parallel. “The lauding of Tebow’s Christianity has me recollecting another Denver athlete who once flaunted his faith, on the basketball court in the mid-1990s, and paid a price for it.” Fish then goes on to tell the tale of former Denver Nuggets point guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who, following his conversion to Islam, called the American flag “a symbol of oppression and tyranny” and received a one-game suspension for refusing to stand for the national anthem. Abdul-Rauf’s actions didn’t win him any new fans. He was traded to Sacramento and left the league two years later.

“But if a Muslim player thanked Allah after every game, ended every interview with ‘praise Allah,’ would we afford him the same respect we give Tebow? Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf knows the answer.”

You got that, sports fans? You’re religious bigots or something. Never mind that two of the greatest and most revered NBA players in history​—​Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Hakeem Olajuwon​—​were both Muslim. Muhammad Ali made some pretty sharp anti-American critiques, and yet George W. Bush gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

Funnily enough, in November, sports columnist Jen Engel asked the same question as Fish and arrived at an entirely different answer:

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 in October.

I know what would happen. All hell would break loose.

Engel goes on to flesh out the likely scenario of a furious backlash from her fellow sports columnists, the NFL commissioner being forced to apologize, etc. Suffice to say, Engel has it right and Fish has it wrong.

In the meantime, we would invite Fish and Tebow’s detractors to talk to Bailey Knaub. Knaub is a teenage girl from Loveland, Colorado, who has Wegener’s granulomatosis, a disease that leads to prolific tumors. Her 70th surgery was the removal of her left lung. Knaub is a big fan of the Broncos QB, so Bailey’s cousin surreptitiously wrote a letter to Tebow’s foundation.

Tebow was understandably moved, and brought Bailey to the first round of the playoffs, where she watched Tebow throw for 316 yards and deliver a stunning victory on an 80-yard pass in, yes, overtime, against the best passing defense in the league. After the biggest win of his professional career, he told the press: “But the real win, at least I would say today, is being able to comfort a girl who has gone through 73 surgeries before the game and get a chance to go hang out with her now.”

The most frustrating thing for Tebow’s critics is that nothing about his life or career suggests his Christian charity isn’t coming from a place of sincerity or humility, as opposed to being a retrograde expression of narrow-minded tribalism. But the truth is that you don’t have to share Tebow’s faith to be inspired by his victories​—​on and off the field.

Top Banana

Readers may be surprised to learn that The Scrapbook occasionally listens to National Public Radio while commuting in and out of the nation’s capital. Readers may be less surprised to learn that The Scrapbook is occasionally annoyed by NPR while commuting in and out of the nation’s capital.

Case in point: Harry Belafonte seems to have recently published a memoir​—​titled, inevitably, My Song​—​and there was a period last fall when it seemed as if every time The Scrapbook tuned in to our friends at public radio, a fawning interview was being conducted with the singer/activist. To be sure, the 84-year-old Belafonte’s voice is now distinctly raspy, and his answers tended to sound like a monologue by the aged Don Corleone; but for awhile there you couldn’t switch from one NPR station to another without hearing it. 

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