Tim Tebow, Baseball, and Public Christianity

By now I’m sure you’ve heard that Tim Tebow has decided to try his hand at professional baseball.  That he would do so is not as surprising as it may seem.  He was not only a successful football player, but he was a successful baseball player in high school, earning all-state honors his junior year.

Since his NFL career did not pan out as he hoped, it seems reasonable that an athlete like Tebow would look to other sports to quench his competitive fires.  So, to that end, he put the word out to the thirty teams in Major League Baseball that he would host an open workout.  This gave them an opportunity to send scouts (or not), observe his skills, and make a decision about his ability to play their sport at the highest level.

Nothing shocking or appalling here, right?

Wrong.  Radio and television personalities, columnists, and announcers wasted no time in criticizing Tebow.  It is, admittedly, their job to offer commentary on these things just as it is mine.  But the criticism wasn’t confined to the sport.  It often contained an element of spite, as if Tebow had no right to do such a thing.  “How dare him!  Who does he think he is trying out for professional baseball?!” was the general tone one heard.

So why is so much vitriol poured out on the ex-Florida quarterback?  Are there that many Gator-haters out there?  I am, of course, being sarcastic.  Loyalties to sports teams have nothing to do with the anti-Tebow bias.  I mean, I am an Alabama fan, and if any fanbase ever had a reason to dislike Tebow, it is us.  The man broke our hearts by choosing to go to the University of Florida over the University of Alabama in the first place.  Then, to add insult to injury, he almost singlehandedly defeated the Crimson Tide in the 2008 SEC Championship Game.  All of that notwithstanding, I think most ‘Bama fans are Tim Tebow fans.  Well, in his post-college career anyway.

So I repeat the question: why is so much vitriol poured out on Tim Tebow?

I answered that question in a December 2011 column I wrote for USA Today, and what I said then bears repeating.  Like now, the criticism was then focused on his desire to play professional sports (football, at that time).  You can read the full article here, but this excerpt is the heart my argument:

“Their dislike for Tim Tebow is not, as they would have us believe, about his throwing motion or his completion percentage; it’s all about his open professions of faith and his goody-two shoes image.  When it comes right down to it, we don’t want heroes who are truly good.  We want them to fail the occasional drug test or start a bar fight from time to time.  It makes us feel better about ourselves.  Tebow, however, doesn’t make us feel better about ourselves.  People like him make us feel a little convicted about the things we say and do.  So we find a reason to dislike them.  Or, when Tebow says that glory goes to God and the credit for a victory goes to his teammates, coaches, and family, we are suspicious.  An increasingly jaded culture, we don’t believe that anyone can say such things and really mean them.

So we wait.

We wait for evidence that he really isn’t that good.  We hope to see him kick a player on the ground, drop an F-bomb on television, or Tweet pictures of his privates.  In the meantime, we always have Penn State’s Jerry Sandusky to make us feel better about ourselves.”

That column went viral.  Rush Limbaugh read the entire piece over the air to his audience of millions.  Commentators denied that what I alleged was true.  But it was true and it remains true: the anti-Tebow bias is really an anti-Christian bias.  Anti-Christian bigotry is in fashion and Tim Tebow is on the end of the spear.

For his own part, today Tebow gave a wonderful reply to his critics by doing this on his first trip to the plate as a professional player: click here, watch, and enjoy.

Image Credit: Jeff Kern