Tebow has right to pray in public and others have the right to find it obnoxious

Tim Tebow has every right to do his little public prayer at football games. His drop to one knee is protected speech under the Constitution of the United States.

And I have every right to tell the world how much I despise everything that tebowing represents to me and many others.

Let’s start with the fact that Tebow has publicly supported positions with which I disagree and for which his stand derives from his religious beliefs, for example, his opposition to a woman’s right to an abortion.

Then there’s the political context of the action. I see the Tebow knee drop as the latest action in an aggressive campaign by evangelical and ultra-Orthodox Catholic groups to Christianize our public places and public institutions. The Tebow knee drop is one small piece of this puzzle. There are many others, including the bogus claims of a secular war on Christmas, the attempt to proselytize in the Air Force, the proliferation of Christian radio and TV programming, the fight against evolution and the frequent stunts, such as the rural Florida preacher burning a Koran. The fad of tebowing on Youtube or in a non-religious public place, as opposed to the lone act of one athlete, is the most recent manifestation of the campaign to turn a secular nation into a Christian one. Of course, the religious right has received a lot of help from the mainstream news media and many pandering politicians.

But beyond Tebow’s belief system and the assault it has made on science and the concept of a secular society, is the sports part of the story. The news media, and especially the non-sports media, for the most part are giving Tebow credit for his team’s victory.

The real story is that the Denver offensive line and defense are so good that they can win despite having a bad quarterback. In most professional football games nowadays, the defenses start to break down during the fourth quarter and suddenly both offenses are able to march the ball down the field for quick scores. Everyone’s getting tired and it naturally has a larger impact on those who have to react, i.e., the defense.  It looks as if Denver’s defense doesn’t get tired, or gets less tired than other defenses. (Mr. October, Reggie Jackson, famously denied that he got better in late September and early October; he averred that he merely got less tired than other baseball players after the long grueling season.)

Behind the story of a good team dragging a bad quarterback to victory is another real story: a coach who, when faced with no good choice at quarterback, took about a week to recreate an old-timey offense that modern football strategies had made obsolete in the 1960’s and 1970’s. And behind the coaching story may be yet another story: the inherent edge in conditioning of a team used to playing in a high-altitude environment in which the body adapts to getting less oxygen per breath.

But instead of taking a look at why the Denver team is on a roll, the news media has created a celebrity who happens to be tied to the irrational. The fact that the media established and treats Tebow as a celebrity says more about the American ideology than the fact that he is Christian.

The Tebow preoccupation displays all the characteristics of celebrity culture:

  • Like the Kardashians and other reality stars, Tebow doesn’t deserve the publicity he gets.
  • Discussions of the Tebow phenomenon has driven out other sports and news reporting, just like celebrity news drives out serious economic and other reporting.
  • The celebrity, Tebow, has come to represent the issue, public faith.  In the United States, charitable causes and social trends are often advanced or retarded based on their relationship to celebrities; e.g., when Angelina Jolie gets involved in a cause, that cause suddenly becomes news. And when a wide range of publications, including Parade, Cosmopolitan, AARP, People and even The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal cover a trend, cause or nonprofit organization, they often do so through the eyes of the celebrities who have become involved.

When I see Tebow tebowing, I think of these things–his political stands, the campaign to Christianize America, the fact that he’s getting credit for the great work of others, and the pernicious influence on American life of celebrity worship.

The Tebow gesture therefore irritates me, even as I applaud his right to do it and bemoan that a Long Island high school suspended four students for being part of a group that staged an impromptu mass tebowing in a school hallway. Organized prayer before the school day is illegal and so should be the practice of allowing religious youth groups to hold meetings in public schools. I find it disgraceful that certain public school districts must be responsible for providing bus service to children going to private religious schools. But if a kid wants to drop to one knee for a second, that’s his or her right.

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