Who’s afraid of Tim Tebow?

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by Michael Freund

This past Sunday I got a first-hand glimpse of one of the hottest phenomena in American pop culture and sports.

The venue was Metlife Stadium in New Jersey, the occasion was the first round of the National Football League playoffs.

Just prior to the start of the game between the New York Giants and the Atlanta Falcons, after the Giants had come onto the field, eight of their players headed toward the end zone, where they did something entirely unexpected.

These hulking and intimidating behemoths, who make their living by strapping on layers of protective body gear and pummelling their opponents, each knelt down on one knee, bowed their heads, and offered a silent prayer.

This act has come to be known as “Tebowing,” after Tim Tebow, the quarterback of the Denver Broncos, whose signature prayerful genuflections have become a popular and internet sensation.

Tebow, who has led his team to some stunning comeback victories, including this past weekend when he tossed an 80-yard touchdown pass in overtime to defeat the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers, is an unabashed fan of his Christian faith. He talks about it in interviews and does not shy away from publicly thanking God for his team’s success.

A growing number of athletes have begun to follow suit, offering thanks to the Creator for their triumphs on the field as well.

WATCHING THE Giants kneel filled me with a sense of awe. What humility! Surrounded by 80,000 screaming admirers, with millions more watching on television, these grandees of the gridiron had no qualms about engaging in a public act of such profound self-effacement.

Like anyone about to undertake a monumental and daunting task, they sought solace in spirituality, acknowledging that we humans ultimately owe everything to the Head Coach in heaven.

At a time when society so badly lacks positive role models, it is refreshing to see some of America’s top athletes setting such an excellent example for the countless number of kids who look up to them.

Indeed, as Jews, we should welcome and encourage this development because it can only help to restore a healthy sense of perspective, one that can serve to counterbalance the West’s increasingly materialistic mores.

But not everyone, it seems, shares this point of view.

Last month, the New York Jewish Week ran a vile and hateful column by one Rabbi Joshua Hammerman entitled “My problem with Tim Tebow.”

Hammerman had the gall to claim that should Tebow lead his team to the championship, it could incite people to torch mosques and attack gays.

Yes, you read that correctly.

“If Tebow wins the Super Bowl, against all odds,” he wrote, “it will buoy his faithful, and emboldened faithful can do insane things, like burning mosques, bashing gays and indiscriminately banishing immigrants. While America has become more inclusive since Jerry Falwell’s first political forays, a Tebow triumph could set those efforts back considerably.”

Huh? Is this guy serious?

After Hammerman’s screed provoked widespread outrage, the Jewish Week was quick to take his article off its website and offer an apology, stating that his column “was more inciting than insightful, and we erred in posting it, which we deeply regret.”

To his credit, Hammerman also said he was sorry, acknowledging that what he wrote was “clumsy and inappropriate, calling to mind the kind of intolerance and extremism my article was intended to disparage.”

You can say that again.

But the imbroglio does highlight an important and troubling truth: many Jews just are not comfortable with public displays of religion.

They look askance at those who invoke the Divine, as though there is something inappropriate or unseemly in doing so. For many Jews, it is legitimate to demonstrate loudly on behalf of animal rights, global warming or to be an assertive atheist who insists that we are all descended from apes.

But if you get down on one knee and thank the good Lord for your achievements, well, that is somehow out of bounds.

The fact that Tebow is a Christian driven by evangelical fervor only seems to add further fuel to the fire in the eyes of his Jewish critics.

But this is as wrong-headed as it is small-minded, and it says far more about his detractors than it does about him.

Personally, I am neither threatened nor intimidated when Christians such as Tebow flaunt their faith in public, whether on or off the football field.

As an observant Jew, I am confident enough in my own belief system not to feel jeopardized or vulnerable.

I am comfortable wearing a yarmulke at all times and putting on tefillin in a busy airport. Neither I nor anyone else should be made to feel that their expressions of faith ought to be kept from public view.

Those Jews who share Hammerman’s sentiments and identify with his discomfort are merely giving voice to their own insecurity, spiritual and otherwise. Rather than hurling insults at others, they should look within and ponder why someone else’s devotion could possibly irk them as much as it does.

So while I am most certainly not a Denver Broncos fan, I do believe it is time that we all catch a case of Tebow fever and give God His rightful due.

After all, saying thanks to a Higher Power can only elevate us to new heights and enrich our lives.

Even in the end zone.

This article first appeared in the Jerusalem Post.

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One Christian's Perspective
3 years 7 months ago

Christians are called to bring everything to God in prayer and to pray without ceasing. When we think God only wants to hear about the “big things” and that we can handle those little tidbits on our own without God’s help, we have demonstrated that our view of God is small and our trust in our self is inflated………and, I have stood in those shoes and gotten in trouble by leaving God out of the picture.

I am just learning about the game of professional football from my very very patient husband. Watching the game where Tebow threw the winning touch-down was very exciting…………..but, it would have been exciting who ever had done that. Football players playing in a critical game must be over-whelmed by emotion. Sometimes the emotion is played out in anger and inappropriate touching and other times it is directed to the One who can calm a pounding heart with peace that is beyond all human understanding. The media has made a big thing of Tim Tebow’s active faith and the secular media and internet quickly filled with negative comments about it. Personally, I would rather an athlete give thanks to God than thump their chests and do a solo dance of victory, but, that’s me.

The concern has been raised “should Christians pray in public”. Of course, if it is appropriate to the situation and need. Tim Tebow did not have a private place to go to pray, he was on the playing field and the adrenalin was flowing. At work, I have seen Muslims go to a quiet public place to pray. On the TV, I have seen Jewish people praying at the Wall in Jerusalem. At restaurants I have seen Christians conduct a quiet intimate Bible Study with prayer. Prayer is a conversation with God whenever the heart yearns for His nearness and that is what makes it appropriate to the situation because we sense a need. Proverbs 3:5-6 says “trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”

Bob Miller
3 years 7 months ago

The Patriots have now interceded to help Tebow avoid undue adulation, although I doubt he prayed for this outcome.

Dovid Kornreich
3 years 7 months ago

How do you know what he was praying for?
Maybe he was praying for humility and not to succumb to pride in the face of all that adulation?

Leon Zacharowicz MD
3 years 7 months ago

Anyone who would interfere with Tebow and his fellow players is not acting in our community’s interests.

One Christian's Perspective
3 years 7 months ago

Tim Tebow is a breath of fresh air in an arena of professional athletes that is often filled with more egos than talent. That game was exciting to watch and the finish was beyond belief. At the end, he did not thump his chest as if to say “Look at what I did” but pointed to the One who is most worthy of Praise. Is this different than David who danced before the LORD, I ask.

Christians pray all the time, everywhere, anytime, any place and most folks aren’t even aware of what is going on. We pray for the victims of car accidents that we pass on the road. We pray for total strangers who appear to be going through some difficulties. We pray just to praise G-d and to give Him thanks. When I wake up in the morning I smile and say “good morning Father, thank you for the great sleep”. There is a passage of Scripture in the NT that says to the effect “pray without ceasing” and “bring everything to G-d in prayer”. I find it interesting that it is a reminder because when you pray often during the day and the more you do it the more you want to do it and so it becomes second nature. It is a joy to talk to G-d because when we do so , we are not leaning on our own understanding but trusting in His.

In today’s environment, I find it uplifting to see G-d praised in public and everyone knows that is what is going on.
How many times do we tell each other “this is such a beautiful day” and forget to thank G-d for the unique day He has made for this time in our lives ? Each day is a unique presentation of wind, cloud patterns, colors, light, fragrance and sound. How many times do we feel great joy because we have been successful at something at work and forget to thank G-d for those gifts He gave us so we could do well and earn a living. How many times when something bad happens our first reaction if to complain in anger and we forget that we are to thank G-d for all things and, in humility, ask to see His blessings in the midst of the our suffering ? Some of the greatest blessings come out of persevering through suffering because G-d has stretched our faith and brought us to a higher level.

I can understand that some would find praying in public uncomfortable. Even Christians who have never prayed out loud in public find it uncomfortable……..but, with practice it gets easier………and with lots of practice it becomes second nature. The problem is, at first, we tend to be more concerned with what others think of us more so than what does G-d think of us. With practice, we don’t become better performers. With practice, we become closer to G-d and find that everything else is secondary. Our conversations with G-d are more natural, sincere, humble and in reverence to all that He is. Christian prayers are spontaneous from the heart in everyday life and the blessing of prayer is that it is the most powerful tool we have in a world filled with evil to transform our surroundings and the world by bringing it and G-d together for His Glory.