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Fan debate: Tim Tebow and the infusion of religion into sports
Tim Tebow(notes) came to fame as a college quarterback for the Florida Gators, where he won the Heisman Trophy in his sophomore year. He was a great college player, no doubt. What really got him the coverage, however, was his blatant proselytizing of a fundamentalist Christian belief system.
When he started wearing references to Bible verses in his eye-black, Tebow became a polarizing figure. He was looked on by the faithful as the ideal athlete, pouring out God to the world. To those who would rather see religion left out of sports, he became a caricature.
Of course, it's not just Tebow. Two years after the eye-black preacher won the Heisman, the trophy went to Mark Ingram(notes), who found it necessary to speak about his God whenever a microphone was in his face. There were a flurry of Christ-touting athletes in the news over the past few years. Colt McCoy(notes), the former Texas quarterback who is now with the Cleveland Browns was in the club.
Former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner(notes), also known for his faith, appeared on ABC television's Dancing with the Stars. Tony Dungy, fresh from winning the Superbowl as coach of the Indianapolis Colts, bragged about doing it 'the Lord's way." The day before the game, Dungy hosted the annual faith-based Super Bowl Breakfast, hosted by Athletes in Action.
That points to what to someone who is not of the faith like myself finds the most troubling. Athletes in Action is the tip of a huge evangelical push into sports in recent years. In every sport and beginning before high school, fundamentalist evangelizing occurs.
The Campus Division of AIA says their mission is "to boldly proclaim the love and truth of Jesus Christ to every college athlete in the U.S. and the millions they influence." To those who would say that's perfectly fine, tell me how you would respond if it were Islamic clerics pushing that faith to athletes from middle school on to the pros.
Stephanie Cox, defender on the U.S. women's soccer team, is just one example. She leads prayer meetings designed to convert the team. How does that look on the international stage, for a team that will play others from all backgrounds?
To the non-believer, or person of another faith, all this comes off as very self-righteous and exclusionary. Not to mention the philosophical questions, like why would an all-powerful God care about sports yet allow thousands of children to die each day?
What Tim Tebow has done is to bring what is a huge movement more out into the open. Persons who aren't part of the movement are sometimes feeling alienated as sports fans. That was highlighted in a piece airing on ESPN's Outside the Lines over the weekend.
My position is that everyone involved in sports should be free to be part of whatever religion they wish, or none at all. Sports should not be used as a platform to promote a religion, nor as a place for conversion of other athletes. Sports figures don't go into churches and start pick-up games between the pews, and preachers should stay out of the locker rooms.
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