The Tim Tebow Dilemma

Faithful readers of my blog know that I have a little sumpin’ sumpin’ for my man Tim Tebow. I am, after all, a red-blooded American girl who likes American football and loves Jesus. Plus, Tim can neck press 2.5 of me, and I’m a sucker for useful life skills.

I’ve obviously never met him, but the grapevine is rich with rumors that he has a great character–he’s humble, hardworking, and a nice, down-home kind of presence in a league rife with overpaid narcissists. And the grapevine never lies, right? But no, given all the positive press around him, I’m willing to admit that he probably has all these traits–for now. But the furor that has been building around the Tim Tebow legend before he has so much as played a down of professional football has me really concerned.

Tebow’s fans, particularly his Christian fans, seem to be laying a lot at his doorstep; from the hullabaloo surrounding him, you’d think they expect him to save the whales, feed starving children, convert the world to Christianity, and get a few Super Bowl rings on the way. Some of those may be justified expectations, considering his service-oriented past. I think it’s incredibly dangerous, though, to hang too much on a hat peg that wasn’t designed to hold said expectations (confused metaphors of a third culture kid for the win!). That is, Tim is a football player, not a spokesperson for evangelicalism (note to self: wonder when we became commercialized enough to laud ‘spokespersons’ for our faith. This is a fairly new phenomenon). Sure, your ‘average’ evangelical may be all about things Tim has espoused, such as missions and pre-marital virginity*. But I’m hesitant to use a football player as the face of my faith–not because a football player can’t be a theologically sound Christian, but because ultimately, I haven’t had a chance to know exactly what it is that said football player believes. Sometimes the Christian community can be too eager to grab anyone who seems remotely in line with Christian values without thinking through the broader ramifications; the Carrie Prejean brouhaha proved that all too well. And while I don’t think we’ll be looking at a Tim Tebow sex tape any time soon, I wish Christians would think big picture before they leap to support anyone whole-heartedly; for example, is Tim Tebow going to continue to be a philanthropist? Or is he going to give away a million or two while building a massive house and spending most of his time in his yacht? In my mind, giving entails sacrifice, not leftovers, even if that leftover money does amount to more than most people make in a year (see the parable of the widow and the coins).

Ultimately, the hero worship of Tim’s fans is putting him in an incredibly difficult position, as building someone up to epic proportions (dare I say ‘idolizing?’) on the basis of their good character is one of the best ways to corrupt said character. Very few people can handle the allure of fame without having their heads turned by it. I’m not concerned that Tim is going to turn into a sex-crazed maniac, ala Tiger Woods, or get accused of assaulting women, like Ben Roethlisberger. But I’m worried that this seemingly naive 22-year-old kid is not going to be able to resist the allure of materialism and entitlement. He’s already missed the first day of rookie training camp because he’s holding out for more money–it’s not an official holdout until Sunday, but I have to wonder what happened to the guy who had to be turned away from training a few days after he was drafted. Tim seems deserving of the vague title ‘nice person’, and I don’t necessarily think that will change–but I’m concerned that as the legend surrounding him grows, he’ll have to do less to deserve the acclaim. While I don’t expect Tim to be Jesus, I’m scared that under the glare of the spotlight, he’ll become less and less like Him (and less and less like Tim, for that matter).

So where will Tim end up? I have no idea–but I truly hope that Tim’s legend is built off the field, regardless of what he does on it. I predict that he does some philanthropy here and there; I predict that he raises money for his foundation and uses that money generously. And maybe that’s all some people expect. But I’m not buying into Tim Tebow stock until I see that he’s unusual–until I see him, despite the allure of fame, consistently sacrificing in order to give to others. He’s done some of that in the past, and I respect that. But the NFL is a different stage, and Tim is poised to either overshadow his legend or to allow the legend to overshadow him. I hope it’s the former–but I’ve been burned by my role models once too often to be optimistic.

*I find it completely fascinating that Tim is the object of lust for thousands of teenage girls based on the fact that he is a good guy, as measured at least in part by his claim of virginity. How’s that for a dose of your daily irony? It’ll become even more painfully ironic if he uses his newly inked Jockey deal to pose in his briefs, and Christian girls miss the blatant Playgirl overtones to the whole thing and fall all over themselves to get their hands on those ads.

PS: Photos taken from here and here, respectively. I don’t own them, I didn’t take them, yada yada, please don’t sue me.

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