A few weeks ago, the college basketball game between Cincinnati and Xavier ended in a bench-clearing brawl. The fight got so bad that the referees decided not to play the last nine seconds. The media and fans were rightly appalled and demanded harsh measures.
This debacle came only a week after the NFL announced that eleven players had failed drug tests. Two of the players, from the Washington Redskins, were suspended for the rest of the season because this was their third offense. The media and Redskins fans were appalled and wondered how anyone could be so foolish and irresponsible.
These stories represent the tiniest tip of a huge iceberg. It seems that no news cycle is complete without a story about some athlete getting into trouble both on and off the field.
Yet, by many accounts, the most controversial athlete in America is a God-fearing man who grew up serving the poor overseas and whose teammates would walk through fire for.
I’m speaking of course of Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. A recent piece in the Atlantic Monthly named him as one of the “15 Most Divisive Athletes in Recent History.” Others on the list included Michael Vick, Barry Bonds, Dennis Rodman, Pete Rose and O.J. Simpson.
So, let’s see . . . that’s one man convicted of animal cruelty, another of obstruction of justice, yet another of tax evasion and banned from baseball for betting on games, someone who probably killed his ex-wife, and a guy who appeared at a book signing wearing a dress.
What did Tebow do to make this august list? Essentially, he is upfront about his Christian faith and that he made an ad saying that he was glad that his mother didn’t abort him.
Even with this, the controversy over Tebow is hard to understand. After all, he’s hardly the only Christian football player or even quarterback. Players kneeling on the sidelines in prayer is almost as much a part of the NFL as cheerleaders.
Neither is he the first player to publicly take a pro-life stand: in 1989, members of the New York Giants and owner Wellington Mara made a pro-life video which was far more direct in its condemnation of abortion than anything that Tebow has done.
When you add the appalling, often-criminal, behavior of many athletes, calling Tebow “divisive” brings to mind the words of Jesus’ denunciation of the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. It also brings to mind the story He told: “we played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.”
There is nothing that Tebow can do, it seems, that will really please people. And that’s ironic because there’s never been a time when people wanted more good role models for their children.
I guess they want the role models — especially religious ones — to be silent, however, about what motivates them.
Ultimately, what makes Tebow “divisive” and “controversial” has little, if anything, to do with what he does on the field. It’s all about our increasing intolerance of faith in public life. Tebow isn’t trying to “impose” anything on anyone besides himself.
Yet, even that is too much for some people. I can’t help but suspect that our generation is getting the kind of athletes it deserves. So, maybe, Tebow should just wear a wedding dress . . .