Who’s afraid of Tim Tebow?

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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14 comments to Who’s afraid of Tim Tebow?

  • Pinchas Giller

    There is a sensibility of “Tefilat Shav,” a prayer that is essentially vain or pointless. As a sort of normal Jew, I do think that the objects of prayer should be real human existential plights, suffering, and other life-and-death concerns. These are the concerns that we express to God in our prayers. Now I will own up to being indifferent and tone-deaf to competitive sports, but the invoking of God and prayer on the sports field lies somewhere between the trivial and the inane, and because I take religion seriously I am offended by this Tebow’s yehirut. Am I wrong?

  • Nachum

    Well, Pinchas, it’s his parnasa. :-) If the fans were praying, that would be another story.

  • Baruch Gitlin

    I’m only afraid of Tim Tebow when he plays the Jets, but I’m rooting like heck for him in the playoffs. It might be different if he came off a hypocrite, but he seems like a really great guy. I agree with this post, but with one caveat – when we display our religion publicly, we should be very, very careful to try to make our bein adam l’chavero actions conform to our bein adam l’makom actions. For example, a public display of not walking 4 amos without tzitzis in prison isn’t necessarily the kind of public religiosity we should want to display (or laud). But Sandy Koufax not pitching on Yom Kippur is something I think we can all be proud of.

  • Shalom

    Pinchas, I respectfully disagree, at least for the most part. First of all, for Tim Tebow sports is his livelihood, not mere recreation. There is as much riding on his athletic success as there is for a lawyer or stockbroker in their own financial situations. Also, I’m not so sure that one shouldn’t Daven for success in non-lofty endeavors. If it’s important to you you should feel that G-d is the one to approach about it. He’s All Powerful, is concerned with our personal lives, and wants to help us when we call out to us? As a Father, He is concerned with what is important to us, whether it be the success of a business deal, the winning of a shiny new bike in a raffle, or hitting the 3-pointer in a pick-up game. What kind of father only cares about how his child reads the Gemara and has Kavana in Davening, but could care less about his sticker collection or his what he built with Legos.

    Perhaps prayer will transform the supplicant to refine their priorities and begin to feel that more G-dly endeavors are what’s important, but G-d wants to hear from us at whatever level we’re holding.

  • Dan Daoust

    I think most sports fans rightly view this whole Tebow thing as a national comedy act. It’s all just silly. Tebow is an average player on his best day. The holy rollers who think he is Divinely ordained to win are basically making fools of themselves, to everyone else’s delight. (Yes, yes, everything’s mishamayim, but that is not the same thing as actually believing that Tebow is winning because he prays to the Lord).

    Personally, I think we’d all be better off paying it no mind. Don’t try to draw lessons from it, don’t be worried about it, don’t anything. It’ll all be over after this Sunday anyway.

  • Noam Stadlan

    I think this issue is more complex than the author states. While he maybe confident in his religion, there are many who are not. Some segments of our religion use stories of miraculous deeds by faithful adherents(even contemporary Gedolim) to inspire belief. Seemingly Miraculous athletic deeds by an avowed Christian, especially when he seems to attribute his success to his god, have the potential to sway the impressionable to similar beliefs. Even without the impressive comebacks, children mimic their athletic heroes and Tebow’s religion, being that it is on prominent display, is something that they may choose to follow.

    Of a more broad concern is that the historic Jewish interaction with public dispays of religion(PDR) has been on the receiving end of Inquisitions and Crusades, and there is a natural preference for religious expression to remain a private affair. Obviously Mr. Tebow is not advocating pogroms, but I think this concern is part of the Jewish subconscious.

    Finally, religious Christians and Moslems who share our values are our natural allies in promoting a just and moral society. Seen from this vantage point Tebow is a wonderful role model, especially considering that other options include a sexual predator(Ben Rothlisberger) and a murderer(Ray Lewis) among others. If all that he stood for was justice and morality defined as we do, all would be good. However it must be kept in mind that many if not most religious Christians are also interested in enforcing their own views on homosexuality, abortion, and other issues that straddle the religious/ social divide. On these issues the Jewish and Christian views may not be the same. Some, such as Rav Shafran or Rav Menken, do not mind letting the Christian right pass legislation that makes following the Tzitz Eliezer’s view on abortion a felony. I think however that Orthodox Jews need to protect their Halachic options and not allow the law of the land to be dictated by a different religion
    Therefore, like most things, where our interests coincide, Tim Tebow is good for the Jews. But there is a possibility of danger as well. Hopefully we, and our impressionable youth, will see the good and ignore the rest.

  • Gershon Pickles

    Yes, Pinchas, you are wrong. Your standards of what is and what is not considered a tefillat shav or yehirut are Jewish standards, and are not be imposed upon a non-Jew. Beyond that though, even as a Jew I see nothing wrong, and everything right, about praying after a victory. The man is performing – his parnassah, if you prefer – in front of 75,000 live spectators, and tens of millions more at home. Absolutely nothing about praying in these circumstances. In general also I would say it is not for us to comment upon what is worthy of prayer. Everyone has his own standards.

  • Bob Miller

    Some religious people are critical of public religious displays other than in houses of worship or specifically religious gatherings, whether these displays are sincerely meant or not. I think Tebow is sincere and a pretty good quarterback, and doesn’t think of himself as a show-off, but in this respect he may be one!

  • concerned

    I recall reading how Rav Avigdor Miller standing at a light turning green “Tatty, help to get across the street safely”. This was not in a place of danger. It was the result of his clear recognition that without God’s help we can not accomplish ANYTHING, even the seemingly simple and mundane. GO TEBOW!!!

  • One Christian's Perspective

    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.

  • Leon Zacharowicz MD

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

  • Dovid Kornreich

    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?

  • Bob Miller

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

  • One Christian's Perspective

    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.”