Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Is Tim Tebow a Seabiscuit for Today?

9 January 2011 and 21 January 2011

Many commentators have waxed profoundly on the supposed fact that the unimpressive looking race horse Seabiscuit was a symbol to common American men and women during the Great Depression of the late 1920s and 1930s. If, so the story goes, the beaten up Seabiscuit could win races against horse racing's best and beautiful can't we, we common men and women beaten up by the Great Depression, survive the worst economic downturn in US history? I raise this issue because I want to know if the homeschooled son of Christian missionaries, the former quarterback of the University of Florida Gators, and the current Denver Broncos (now New York Jets) quarterback Tim Tebow is a Seabiscuit for a new generation of Americans, particularly evangelical Christian Americans, affected by economic depression?

Postscript, 1 December 2011:
In response to the continuing apologetics and polemics associated with Tebow in the sports world I wrote the following response:

Hate Tim Tebow? Some people love him don't they?

I have long thought Mr. Tebow a Seabiscuit for that most recent of capitalist pastimes, the most recent great economic bust. Like Seabiscuit he's the, in this case, guy who doesn't look pretty on the football pitch but who just keeps on trying (Tebow as a kind of sports energiser (Easter?) bunny that just keeps going despite all the criticism?).

Tebow is thus symbolic of that great American myth, namely that you can become successful if you just put your Protestant work ethic shoulder to the grindstone. Tebow is, in other words, the anti Paris Hilton, who became a celebrity, a singer, an actress, because of daddy. I suspect that for many Americans Tebow is, because he is a success story, at least at this point, representative that anyone can rise to greatness in the US, a myth which has come under increasing attack thanks to the rise in inequality to levels that recall the Great Depression of the 1920s and which, as a result, I suspect many Americans no longer have faith in, at least privately .

There are, in my opinion, valid criticisms of Tebow's mechanics out there in one of the few areas of American popular culture that actually comes close to being intellectual, the sports TV and radio world. But the meaning of Tebow in contemporary American life, as we all know, goes beyond Tebow's physical abilities. For many Christians Tebow shows what god can do in Christian lives (ironic since Tebow's mental attitude and training regime clearly has had an impact on his success). Non-Christians, I suspect, have various reactions to Tebow and this place in American Christian popular culture ranging from amusement to annoyance to intellectual and academic analysis.

Tebow, of course, is not the first sports figure to bring religion on to the sports pitch. Sandy Koufax, arguably the greatest pitcher of all time at least over a five or six year stretch, did not pitch the first game of the World Series against the Minnesota Twins in 1965 because it was Yom Kippur. He attended Yom Kippur services instead leading Don Dysdale, who did pitch and who lost the first game of the World series, to declare to Dodger manager Walter Alston that he suspected Alston wished he was Jewish too. But Koufax is perhaps an interesting foil to Tebow both personally and in terms of public reaction. The only time, as I recall, Koufax made a big deal out of his Jewishness publicly was when he went to Yom Kippur services instead of pitching the first game in the World Series against the Minnesota Twins. Koufax's profession of Jewishness, in other words, as I remember it, was very different from Tebow's very public profession of his muscular evangelical Christianity, a public profession and a muscular Christianity that recalls, for many, the past Christian dominance of America beginning in the nineteenth century and the continuing attempt by conservative theocratic Christians to return to dominance today (example: those New Apostolic Domnionists like Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry).

Unlike Koufax Tebow has been active in promoting a very American brand of masculine evangelical Christianity. He has been active in the movement for allowing homeschoolers to play on local public athletic teams. He has a foundation that "promot[es] faith, hope, and love" to those in dark need. He once regularly put biblical verses under his eyes. Biblical verses can be found all over his website as can a goodly amount of self-promotion. Tebow has been in ads promoting the paternalistic and theocratic Focus on the Family.

I wonder what the reaction would be if minority religions or even atheists were doing similar things to what Tebow is doing. But hey, perhaps we need more Jewish athletes promoting the 613 commandments of YHWH on their eyes, Muslim athletes promoting sharia's law through their foundations (here they come Madam de Paranoid Michele Bachmann...I knew Madam de Pompadour and you, Ms. Bachman, are no Madam de Pompadour), and atheists putting ads on during the Super Bowl religious holiday.

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