There's room for divine inspiration

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 January, 2012, 12:00am


I can't think of anything more personal than someone's faith. What we believe in defines who we are and because life is often messy, if your faith pulls you through the more difficult moments then more power to whatever you believe in. But most folks don't appreciate it when they are force-fed someone else's faith, which begs the question: would you rather have somebody governing for Jesus or playing for Jesus?

This being an election year in the US, the pious poseurs are out in full force and, throughout the endless stream of debates to select a candidate to run against Barack Obama in November, religion is hugely prominent. Again, a faith-based candidate will make many voters very nervous. However, the presidential primaries are not the only show in the US right now. This is play-off time in the NFL and, ironically, it seems a faith-based athlete is also making some folks nervous.

The single most popular and polarising athletic figure in the US right now is a young man of extremely deep faith. Tim Tebow is the quarterback of the surprisingly successful Denver Broncos and last week his team knocked perennial powers the Pittsburgh Steelers out of the play-offs. This weekend he faces another powerhouse club in the New England Patriots.

If Denver's success is something of a surprise, the fact that Tebow is engineering it is even more of a shock. Tebow was arguably the greatest college football player ever during his years at Florida. Yet, despite winning the Heisman Trophy and two national championships at Florida, Tebow was not particularly fancied by NFL scouts. He is a hulking man and because his first instinct is to run instead of pass, he is considered to play the most important position on the field in an unconventional manner. But there is nothing conventional about Tebow. He was born in Manila 24 years ago to a couple of Christian Baptist missionaries. When he was three the family moved back to Florida where he was home-schooled and, thanks to a new law in the state, he was allowed to pick the high school of his choice to play football despite not attending any classes there.

His legend grew and so did his faith and by the time he made it to Florida he was just as renowned for going down on one knee in a quick prayer on the field or sideline as he was for his achievements. Today, 'Tebowing' is all the rage with players in different sports doing it after something good. Some are clearly mocking him while others are honouring him. But everybody is doing it. A website set up this week for people to post pictures of themselves Tebowing had half a million page visits in one day. And you know what? Tebow is still a very unconventional NFL quarterback. His passing is not pretty, but all he does is win, which has to count for something. This week Tebow was named America's favourite athlete in a poll on, the nation's largest sports website. He is without doubt a cultural phenomenon whose crossover appeal has energised religion among the youthful demographic. Tebow used to wear eye black with his favourite biblical verse, John 3:16, on it. Against the Steelers he threw for a career-high 316 yards and averaged 31.6 yards per completion. You think it's a coincidence, infidel? Charles Barkley does.

The former NBA star and irreverent media pundit said it was dangerous to confuse football with religion and he is not alone. 'I like Tim Tebow, but there comes a point where he had a great game,' he said on a radio show this week. 'He's supposed to have a great game. They want to make it seem like, oh, the world is aligned correct. I'm like, he does play quarterback. He is supposed to play well.'

Personally, I think it's fascinating. Who knows, maybe the Messiah is here and he showed up wearing shoulder pads and a helmet. A number of his victories this year have been incredible comebacks that were described as, um, miraculous. He is the most high-profile modern-day missionary and the phalanx of cameras that follow his every move only enhances his crusade. While Tebow has to keep winning to stay relevant, if he loses to New England this weekend it will only be a slight setback. But imagine if he wins? And imagine if his team make it to the Super Bowl? You could be hiding in a cave in Tora Bora and not be immune to Tebowmania.

'I have officially called off my boycott of the NFL,' conservative columnist R. Emmett Tyrrell Jnr wrote in the American Spectator this week. 'I do not care how many felons or frotteurs play the game. Now there is Tim Tebow to redeem it.'

Even though he plays football, Tebow is not really a football player. He is a redeemer and you know what, that's OK. He is a respectful young man and if his faith is helping him win games and converts, then good for him. It could be worse. At least his faith is not dictating the governing of his country.