Tim Tebow: It’s Just A Football Game

Tim Tebow has been at the center of a culture war battle, but he seems to have a more balanced view of the whole thing.

As I noted in my earlier post, Denver Broncos Quarterback Tim Tebow has become, in a very short period of time, some kind of weird symbol of the cultural wars. On the one side you’ve got secularists like Bill Maher who openly cheer when Tebow performs badly as if that by itself confirms their atheism. On the other side we have religious conservatives who seem to view every Tebow victory, or even the mere coincidence that his number of passing yards is similar to a particular Bible verse, to be proof of their own beliefs. Observing all of this from mostly the sidelines, I’ve found the entire thing to be more than a little ridiculous. The idea that God, if such a thing actually existed, would care one way or the other about the outcome of a sporting event has always struck me as profoundly silly and on a level with the ancient animistic religions that saw divine intervention every time there was thunder and lightening.

It is perhaps because he’s gotten caught up in this weird cultural/political war that Tebow has become such a focus of media attention, although the fact that he’s telegenic and winning football games in dramatic fashion probably has something to do with it too. In any case, whatever side you take in the culture wars, it’s worth noting that Tebow himself is far more sanguine about his success than either side in this weird debate that has swept across the country:

As he prepares for Saturday night’s NFL playoff game between Denver and New England, Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow told “The NFL Today” host James Brown that his parents taught him the perspective he brings to the sport:

“I think number one is, what my mom and dad preached to me when I was a little kid: Just because you may have athletic ability and you may be able to play a sport doesn’t make you any more special than anybody else,” Tebow said. “Doesn’t mean God loves you more than anybody else.

“We play a sport. It’s a game. At the end of the day, that’s all it is, is a game. It doesn’t make you any better or any worse than anybody else. So by winning a game, you’re no better. By losing a game, you’re no worse. I think by keeping that mentality, it really keeps things in perspective for me to treat everybody the same.”

“The guy is a wonderful young man,” Brown told Charlie Rose. “There is no phoniness in him at all. What you see is what you get. He’s been the same way, Charlie, from Pop Warner football. If you can win over a testosterone-laden locker room where there’s some crusty hard-nosed guys in there, bottom line is, he’s a winner.

“He does come to the NFL level, the highest form of football, without a polished skill set that’s associated with an elite level quarterback. But he’s overcome challenges each and every step of the way. And hey, if he’s learning at the NFL level and he’s got his team in the post-season, that’s a pretty good athlete in my book.”

“The NFL Today” host described the quarterback as self-effacing, who does not want to discuss his charity, such as helping young people with serious health problems. “The big thing with Tebow, he says, ‘I’m using football as a platform for bigger and better things,’ and who can argue with that?” said Brown.

By all accounts, Tebow is genuine in his beliefs and the same in person as he comes across in public, which is itself a rarity in professional sports. On some level, though, I think it’s unfair to him that he’s has been turned so quickly, by others, into something more than what he actually is, which is a football player. It doesn’t appear to me that it’s a role he ever asked for. Yes., he’s been public about his faith but that’s his right. The fact that his pre-game sideline prayer ritual has become an internet meme actually strikes me as a bit insulting to him given that it takes something that is important to him and trivializes it so that people can post pictures of themselves on the Internet doing something other than planking. It even became the subject of a bet between the Mayors of Denver and Pittsburgh before last weeks AFC Wild Card Game. The prayer ritual doesn’t mean that much to me, but mocking it in that manner strikes me as pretty dumb.

In other words, Tebow is being more mature and more level-headed about this than any of the people who have adopted him as either a cultural hero or enemy. Perhaps they could all take a clue from him and just enjoy the game. The Broncos are currently 13.5 point underdogs heading in to Foxboro, which isn’t surprising considering that Denver lost the last game against the Patriots by nearly 20 points. It’s going to take another stellar performance to pull off a win this weekend,  and personally I doubt Tebow will be able to do it. Whichever way it turns out, though, lets not pretend that it means anything. Other than deciding which team goes on to the AFC Championship Game, that is.

FILED UNDER: Popular Culture, Religion, Sports, , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Scott says:

    If he’s smart, he will make an effort to fade out of the public for a while. Right now he is kind of boxed-in. Can he not do his pregame ritual without invoking some kind of commentary? People are putting him on a pedestal and that is a lonely place to be.

  2. Rob in CT says:

    The idea that God, if such a thing actually existed, would care one way or the other about the outcome of a sporting event has always struck me as profoundly silly and on a level with the ancient animistic religions that saw divine intervention every time there was thunder and lightening.

    I’m with you, and of course this extends welllllll beyond Tebow. He’s just a recent and slightly more obvious example of it.



  3. Hey Norm says:

    “…secularists like Bill Maher who openly cheer when Tebow performs badly as if that by itself confirms their atheism…”

    If that’s what you got out of the Maher tweet then you have a reading comprehension problem.
    The bottom line on this is if someone is going to wear their superstitions on their sleeve…then they leave themselves open to mockery for it. (The SNL skit before the last Bronco’s/Patriots game was friggin’ hilarious.)
    I wonder what would you be writing if an atheist, or a Muslim, behaved in the same manner as Tebow?

    “…In other words, Tebow is being more mature…”

    In my opinion Tebow is being immature by putting his personal beliefs on display instead of keeping them to himself.

  4. jpmeyer says:

    It’s going to be awesome when Denver wins the Super Bowl, and then in his postgame interview, Tebow dedicates the victory to Allah and his prophet, Muhammed (praise be unto him).

  5. Jeremy says:

    @Rob in CT: I just want to say, together with Rob and you, Doug, THIS.

    Tim Tebow is a football player and a Christian. Somehow taking that and believing that God has some role in his career is just ridiculous. He’s nothing more, nothing less.

  6. PogueMahone says:

    @Hey Norm:

    If that’s what you got out of the Maher tweet then you have a reading comprehension problem.

    My thoughts exactly. Maher, like many of us, have poked fun at Tebow. That doesn’t translate into “openly cheer when Tebow performs badly.”

    I’ve seen this more than a few times lately – that the “secular left” is cheering against and attacking Tim Tebow over his religion.
    When? Where? How? It’s all bullsh!t. Only in right-wing fantasy land exists a vast, left-wing conspiracy against the Broncos QB.


  7. Ernieyeball says:

    @Hey Norm “In my opinion Tebow is being immature by putting his personal beliefs on display instead of keeping them to himself.”

    Well, at least he doesn’t paint his face with Bible verses like he did in College.
    Does anyone remember if he displayed Matthew 5: v5 and v6 on his mug when he was using it for a billboard?

    Here is Young’s Literal Translation:

    5And when thou mayest pray, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites, because they love in the synagogues, and in the corners of the broad places — standing — to pray, that they may be seen of men; verily I say to you, that they have their reward. 6 But thou, when thou mayest pray, go into thy chamber, and having shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret, and thy Father who is seeing in secret, shall reward thee manifestly.

    broad places=gridiron?

  8. OzarkHillbilly says:


    Agreed…. But then I find public proclamations of faith only a little more offensive than say… an old Obama bumper sticker or an NRA emblem on the back of one’s car, and only to the extent of the smug affirmations of “Jesus loves me but you are f*cked.”

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    You guys keep talking about Tebow this, Tebow that….

    Introducing…… Mr. Deity.

  10. Dazedandconfused says:

    What I like about him is how Fox (the coach) adapted to his skills. They created a whole offense around those wonderful wheels he’s got. The lack of orthodoxy driving so many defenses nuts is just plain fun to watch happen.

    The kid is a football player. I knew it the first day he played when on the sidelines, the entire O-line was gathered around him, having fun and yakking it up. They will play for this L’il Abner in cleats. Watch what’s happening to Sanchez in NY and what happened to Henne in Miami, if you think that doesn’t count.

    Too bad he got into that praying in public stuff, but I suspect that can be lived down.

  11. Linton says:

    So far Chuck Klosterman’s take on Tebow is the best piece I’ve read on him:

  12. Jenos Idanian says:

    This is a sport where Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress are still widely respected and admired, but Tebow is the most controversial? Where the sports card makers have to add room for “rap sheet,” people get bent out of shape for a guy taking a few seconds to express his faith in a way that is meaningful to him?

    I think I wanna hurl.

  13. @Hey Norm:

    How Tebow chooses to practice his faith is his business, and his business alone.

  14. Linton says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    Michael Vick is still controversial. Just ask most people I know who own pets. I do think Tebow gets more attention though because he’s the polar opposite of the misbehaving pro athlete our culture has come to expect. He doesn’t fit into the narrative. Any person, that is drastically different than what surrounds them is going to be talked about and noticed more.

  15. Linton says:

    Here is the Klosterman piece.

  16. mattb says:

    You beat me to the verse from Matthew … its one that doesn’t square easily with the public Christianity that is on display in many locations.

    While one might argue that it conflicts with Matthew 28:19 (among others), there is a strong argument for the fact there is a big difference between prayer and proselytizing.

  17. Hey Norm says:

    @ Doug…
    No…when Tebow parades it around like a cockatoo on his shoulder he makes it everyones business. If a Muslim did the same thing everyone would be flipping out. If someone wore eye-black that said “god doesn’t exist” everyone would be flipping out. Your religion is your business…keep it that way…

  18. RandomJerk says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I think this misses the point. Bill Maher and any right wing conservatives who look at Tebow as a sign of anything are irrelevant. The problem I think average people have with the Tebow story is the way Tebow prays so conspicuously, on the field with the cameras pointed at him, rather than as a private conversation with his maker.

    Jesus warned against this in his Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:5-6.

  19. Anonne says:

    He’s praying a quiet prayer in public. Big deal. No one should be offended by it. It’s not like he’s leading some big sermon in the stadium. It isn’t something he should have to hide or be ashamed of. So what if he prays? I mean, really. Grow up.

  20. Franklin says:

    I’m not religious but Tebow conducts himself very well.

  21. The Anti-Tebow...formerly Hey Norm says:

    @ Annone….
    What if Tebow was singing hymns during a business meeting….would that be acceptable?
    What if a Muslim player suddenly rolled out a carpet pointed it east and prayed to Allah?
    What if a Defensive end decided to become a Satanist and suddenly we have a battle of biblical forces on the field?
    Tebow can pray in the locker room…and he doesn’t have to sing hymns when he knows he is “mic’ed up”.

  22. Herb says:

    @The Anti-Tebow…formerly Hey Norm:

    What if a Muslim player suddenly rolled out a carpet pointed it east and prayed to Allah?

    Being a Denver native, I actually have a case in point for you:

    The case of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, aka Chris Jackson. Played for the Nuggets. Converted to Islam, changed his name, refused to stand for the national anthem due to religious reasons. It was quite the deal back then. The NBA basically told him he HAD to stand, the compromise being that he could use the time to pray rather than “O say can you see.” And there he was, palms upraised, praying to Allah. And there he went, right out of the NBA.

    Are you proposing we treat Tebow the same way?

  23. The Anti-Tebow...formerly Hey Norm says:

    I’m proposing that Tebow does like everyone else and keep his superstitions to himself.

  24. Jenos Idanian says:

    Let’s see… Tebow is a public figure whose biggest public “vice” is that, every now and then, at a moment of personal accomplishment, takes a couple of seconds to proclaim his faith and pay tribute to his personal higher power. That’s it.

    And for that, Norm is so incensed that he is willing to change his identity to denounce him.

    Tebow doesn’t preach, doesn’t evangelize, doesn’t condemn others, he just lives his life — at least publicly — consistent with his faith. And that drives certain people positively batshit. They can’t stand it, and have to find some way to tear him down.

    So much for “tolerance” and “live and let live.”

  25. Mr. Prosser says:

    @Herb: You beat me to this. Rauf’s mistake was grandstanding during the anthem. Anyway, players don’t need all this public display. Remember when Lou Alcindor (Sp?) became Kareem Abdul-Jabar? He was and is a class act and made no big production regarding his conversion.

  26. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Herb: Sounds like a mixup of politics and religion — or church and state, if you will. There’s nothing incompatible with the National Anthem and Islam — unless Islam is seen as a religion, culture, political system, economic system, and all else anyone would need.

    Which, come to think of it, is what a lot of Muslims declare.

    Tebow is, apparently, just a decent guy, He comes across as living proof that the cynics are wrong in that everyone is a venial and nasty and rotten as they see everyone — even (or, possibly, especially) themselves. As such, he cannot be tolerated, and must be exposed and torn down.

    Personally, I just look at him and shrug and say “good for him.” And think that it’s nice to see a pro athlete who seems like someone who’d be a good role model for a change. He’s not a thug, not a gang-banger, not a convicted criminal, not a druggie, not a rapist, just a nice guy doing his job — and doing it exceptionally well.

    And that he drives psychopathic hatemongers like Norm up the wall is a wonderful bonus.

  27. Tillman says:

    …he just lives his life — at least publicly — consistent with his faith.

    That’s why we keep pointing out that specific verse of Matthew, which occurs in one of the most important sections of the New Testament, straight from Jesus’s mouth. Public prayer like what he is doing is not consistent with Christian faith, anymore than Rick Perry’s prayer rally was last year or Pat Robertson’s praying on national television. It drives me batshit because I see public prayer constantly abused to promote the selfish and worldly interests of those who wish to present themselves as devoted. Ostentatious kneeling in an endzone after the entire viewing public just saw you score a touchdown is not a demonstration of piety; thanking God in the privacy of your own home or in moments of solitude, when there is no social or worldly gain from showing your faith, is.

    And you can’t argue his public prayer hasn’t gained him anything. I wouldn’t know the man’s name were it not for this, as I imagine many others wouldn’t either.

  28. Lomax says:

    @Scott: I don’t have a problem with Tim’s public displays of his faith. There are many Christians who quietly go through the day praying silently. One of the most influential people in my life was a construction foremanI worked with who happened to be a Christian. Tim is a football player who happens to be a Christian. There are people of various faiths who quietly go about their work and other activities and practice their beliefs at the same time in many various ways. With Tim, I mainly look at his performances in the red zone.

  29. The Anti-Tebow...formerly Hey Norm says:

    @ Jenos…
    You are wrong…when I see Tebow on ESPN singing “my god is a strong god”, or whatever the incantation is, then it is not what you describe in his defense. If it was simply what you say…it would be fine.
    The problem with zealots who believe in an infinitely old, infinitely powerful, omnipotent entity that cannot be detected, and for which there is absolutely no proof…is that they want to push that belief on everyone else.
    Keep your personal beliefs personal.

  30. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Tillman: I’m no Biblical scholar — hell, I’m not even a Christian — but I’m gonna go re-read that section of the Bible right now. Because I bet there’s a context that is being overlooked. Matthew 5:5-6, right? I’ll check the New Revised Standard edition online for that whole chapter.

    Now that’s odd. The source I found shows Matthew 5:5-6 as:

    5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

    6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

    Oh, and here’s another section just further down:

    14 ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

    Now to see if I can find the actual section people are referring to…

    OK, it’s Matthew 6. The first verse sets the entire tone of the rest of the chapter:

    ‘Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

    To me, the “in order to be seen by them” as the key aspect here. It’s not the public nature of it, as that is covered in Chapter 5; it’s the “doing it in public to impress others” part.

    Tebow, to me, is demonstrating the “let your light shine before others” dictate — he’s not hiding his faith in the least. He’s not keeping it a secret or acting as if he’s ashamed of it, but shows that it’s an integral part of his character and life. The following chapter is warning of overdoing it — making big, loud, public proclamations of one’s faith purely to impress others. There, I’d point fingers at prominent pro-choice Democrats who boast of their strong Catholicism when questioned (Biden, Pelosi, numerous Kennedys). I’d consider those people to be breaking Matthew 6:5-6 before I accused Tebow — who just takes a couple of seconds to kneel and pray after he achieves something good.

    Hell, if he was really doing it for self-aggrandizement, he’d be making sure we all heard what he had to say, too. Even if it meant repeating it in a post-game interview.

  31. Herb says:

    @The Anti-Tebow…formerly Hey Norm:

    “I’m proposing that Tebow does like everyone else and keep his superstitions to himself. “

    Hey, I’m with you on superstitions. Don’t need em, don’t proclaim them. But that’s me.

    Anyone else? Hey, this is America…believe what you want, say what you want. It’s not only legal, it’s awesome.

  32. Tillman says:

    @Jenos Idanian: …so, if I’m reading you right, you don’t think kneeling in an endzone being observed by television cameras and broadcast to millions of people is “in order to be seen by them,” but “to let [his] light shine before others?”

    Since you’re not Christian, I should tell you that, contrary to popular opinion, you don’t have to kneel to pray. You might also notice that the sentence goes further than letting light shine, “so that they may see your good works.” Scoring in football doesn’t really count as a “good work” in a religious sense. Now the stuff he does with charities that I’ve heard about, that would count, but he doesn’t have to kneel in an endzone to draw attention to that.

  33. The Anti-Tebow...formerly Hey Norm says:

    @ Herb…
    It’s not America…it’s the NFL…it’s a multi-billion dollar business…with an anti-trust exemption from the Congress. I don’t think the NFL wants to be in the Proselytizing business…

  34. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Tillman: I’d say that it’s a matter of timeliness, not glory-seeking. His first instinct isn’t to spike or do a dance or strut, but to give thanks that he’s performed his job well.

    I don’t watch sports much, either, but a few seconds on bended knee is a LOT more tolerable to me than some of the other shenanigans players pull after scoring. I find I like a “You are awesome” a lot more than “I’m so awesome.”

    It doesn’t bother me in the least ‘cuz I’m tolerant that way. And I find it hilarious how many of the “tolerant” side let themselves be inflamed into rage and hatred over such a little thing. He isn’t saying all the other players should do it, or that everyone should do it, he just does it because it is what he believes is right for him.

    And for that, he must be torn down.

  35. mattb says:

    @Tillman & @Jenos Idanian:

    As I said before, I think one must separate prayer from proselytizing. The first — directly communing with the Divine — following the words of Christ, is private. The other, openly discussing one’s religion/faith, is public.

    It’s clear that Jesus had no issues with publicly preaching — sermon on the mount is a prime example. And he commands one not to *deny* their faith/religion.

    But that isn’t the same as prayer. That Tebow strikes a pose that tells us “he’s praying” is fundamentally a public display of prayer (versus a quiet internal prayer). That, like trying to impose public prayer in schools, is counter to Matthew 6. Note, as an aside, that Churches are not public spaces, so that’s why group prayer displays there are not counter Matthew 6.

    On the other hand, Tebow openly talking about his faith is completely in keeping with the Gospels and Christ’s commandments on evangelism.

    BTW, I’m for completely curtailing TD celebrations in most regular season games…

  36. The Anti-Tebow...formerly Hey Norm says:

    Being tolerant of another’s superstitions is not an invitation to have that sillyness jammed in your face. And again…Jenos continues to mis-characterize Tebows behavior in order to make his/her argument…admitting he/she doesn’t watch a lot of sports.
    Hey everyone look at me…I’m praying…weeeeeeee….
    Christianists…what a joke…true believers don’t need to be exhibitionists.

  37. Jenos Idanian says:

    All in all, Tebow’s actions are absolutely trivial compared to what his fellow players pull every day, on and off the field. But look what it says about haters like Norm that it is what most gets them so incensed.

    I think it’s great we have a leading sports figure who is, by all indicators, a genuine decent guy who is very secure and strong in his faith, and lives his life accordingly and in an upstanding fashion. Plus, he’s a wonderful “canary” — look at the rank bigotry and intolerance and hatred he exposes just by taking a few seconds to go down on one knee when he succeeds.

    Hey, Norm — tell us some more about how it’s the right that has a monopoly on hate and intolerance. And while you’re at it, explain how the First Amendment guarantees how you can live your life without ever being exposed to someone else’s icky expressions of faith. That oughta be real entertaining.

  38. Jenos Idanian says:

    @The Anti-Tebow…formerly Hey Norm: Being tolerant of another’s superstitions is not an invitation to have that sillyness jammed in your face.

    I wonder what Norm thought about the reactions to the Mohammed cartoons. If Christians reacted to ridicule and insults the way a lot of Muslims do, I doubt he’d be so quick to deride people like Tebow.

    Let me make it clearer: “Piss Christ” and “The Da Vinci Code” didn’t get anyone killed. The Mohammed cartoons did.

  39. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @The Anti-Tebow…formerly Hey Norm:

    Norm, I am as hard core an atheist that you will ever find, yeah Tebow’s demonstrations get on my nerves… a little… But then I remember, “Hey! There is no God! People who look to his piousness are idiots! What do I care?” Some day, they will line up at the gates and wonder, “Why aren’t they pearly?” While I, standing in the same line, will say, “What is taking so long?”

    Relax, let people have their beliefs and their hypocrisies. What does it hurt you? Nothing.

  40. Jenos Idanian says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: You’re not actually expecting him to show tolerance, are you? To folks like him, that’s strictly a one-way street. He is to be tolerated, but doesn’t have to tolerate anything.

  41. Septimius says:

    @The Anti-Tebow…formerly Hey Norm: Why don’t you keep your atheism to yourself instead of attacking all of the “zealots” for their “superstitions.” I love how atheists are so smug. In poll after poll more than 90% of Americans say they believe in God, yet the atheists insist that we’re all wrong and they know better. I don’t know of any group of people that define zealotry like atheists do.

  42. Lomax says:

    @The Anti-Tebow…formerly Hey Norm: Most people are more concerned with what Tim does in the red zone with 40 sec. left. I know Coach Fox is.

  43. Anonne says:

    Again, Tebow has nothing to be ashamed of. I don’t like seeing the rabid atheism here but I don’t make it an issue. Sorry if you feel uncomfortable around anyone of any faith who prays openly, yet silently. That’s your issue, not theirs.

  44. The Anti-Tebow...formerly Hey Norm says:

    @ Septimius…
    I am not an Atheist. Atheism gives creedence to Theism. I don’t.
    Nice that we were treated to a bunch of kids reciting John 3:16 by rote…I’m sure that was just a coincidence…brought to us by the homophobic Family Foundation. Christianists with no concept of Christianity.
    Right now it’s 42 to 7…maybe now we can focus on football and not imaginary beings.
    Tim Tebow….the most famous white Bronco since OJs.

  45. The Anti-Tebow...formerly Hey Norm says:

    Two quarterbacks… Ones going to go get naked with a super-model…and one is going to talk to an imaginary being.
    Happy the Pats won…and I hate the Pats.