One of my newspaper friends pointed out to me recently that opinion columnists who are not actually sportswriters should resist the apparently uncontrollable desire to write about sports.

They usually fall flat on their faces, because, as he noted, they are generalists who can never know as much about any given sport as a hard-core fan does.

So, while this may appear to be a column about football, it is not. It is a column about a football player.

I’ve been holding off writing about the Denver Broncos’ quarterback, Tim Tebow, trying to absorb the flood of ink and pixels that has poured forth about his on- and off-field habits. A Google search for “Tebow” garners more than 36 million hits.

The tide has abated recently, after the Broncos lost two games against New England and Buffalo, the former because the defense was terrible and the latter because Tebow was.

Still, Denver is 8-7, with Tebow at the helm for seven wins and three losses as a starter, and the Broncos can get in the playoffs with a win this Sunday against Kansas City — whose new quarterback, Kyle Orton, is the fellow Tebow elbowed out of a job when he took over for the Broncos.

A grudge match with a playoff berth on the line will make this a well-watched game, and if the Broncos win, the act of “te-bowing” will get media legs again. But there’s more going on than that.

The details of Tebow’s well-publicized faith in God and his on-field kneeling are too well known to repeat, but many readers may not know that it is a common practice in the NFL for Christians on both sides of the ball to kneel together at the 50-yard line after a game.

Most TV networks reportedly aim their post-game shots away from the field or hide the players behind close-ups of their on-field reporters. (Although I saw one game recently in which the prayer circle was shown via an aerial camera shot.)

I also saw a game in which Tebow was in his characteristic pose after a score when a black teammate put his arm around him and said, “You keep prayin’, brother, you just keep prayin’.”

Beyond what a good guy Tebow apparently is both on and off the field, what’s interesting is that the view of displays of faith by athletes has come full circle since I was young, making the anti-Tebow comments somewhat reactionary.

Everyone has heard about Jewish pitcher Sandy Koufax’s refusal to pitch for the Dodgers in the first game of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur, gaining him some criticism but general praise.

By the time the baseball movie “Bull Durham” came out in 1988, however, the player identified as a Christian in the film is shown as a shallow, hopeless naïf who ends up marrying the girl who has slept with everyone on the team but him.

These days, with people like highly respected former Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy and winning Super Bowl quarterback Kurt Warner open about their faith, that image has been retired for most fans.

But not all. Tebow, a second-year NFL player and first-round draft pick who was the first college sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy and who guided his Florida Gators to two national titles, is more than moderately talented.

He still lacks the experience and seasoning to be effective as a passer at the pro level, but he has at least partially made up for those shortfalls with a never-say-die attitude.

Yet, he still takes potshots from a certain segment of the media and some other players.

After no-class comedian Bill Maher tweeted an obscene, Christianity-baiting reaction to his last loss, Tebow stood tall by sending out his own tweet: “Tough game today but what’s most important is being able to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Merry Christmas everyone GB2 (a Tebowism that means, ‘God Bless/Go Broncos’).”

Two things his critics seem to find offensive are his pledge to be celibate until marriage and his strong pro-life stance (his mother was urged to get an abortion but refused, and a low-key pro-life commercial they made together created a stir last year).

Both positions are strong rebukes to our licentious popular culture, which promotes promiscuity and abortion (as a way to handle “mistakes”).

Tebow, on the other hand, never has to worry about getting a woman pregnant, or picking up or passing on a debilitating, sterilizing or even fatal sexually transmitted disease. And he gets to give his future wife a gift that few women get these days — his sole devotion.

That has nothing to do with football, of course. But for being a well-known player who proves that it’s possible, he must be made to pay.

 

M.D Harmon is a retired journalist and free-lance writer. He can be contacted at: [email protected]