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Tim Tebow: Separation of Church and Sport

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Now that the Tim Tebow show is over for this season, I have observed enough to take a stand on his proselytizing on the field.

As a football player, he's a force. A bold leader, a positive burst of energy, an agile and powerful runner, even if he's not yet an impressive, accurate passer. I have no reason to doubt that he will carve out a successful NFL career for himself.

I do, however, rail against his acting out his faith in such a public forum, while in his team uniform.

When at the University of Florida, he was well-known for painting different numbers of Biblical scriptures into his eye black. You would see the number "3:16" under his eyes, for instance, in reference to that chapter and verse of the Bible. In the end, the NCAA outlawed players displaying such public signs of personal faith.

I, for one, was a public radio journalist who spoke out against his eye black expressions. He was in his University uniform, representing the Gator Nation. It wasn't fair to his teammates, nor anybody else from his school, to be lumped in with his own private beliefs.

So now he is a Denver Bronco and again he sets himself apart from his teammates by constant public display of his Christian faith.

Quite a few players kneel in a quick prayer or point to the sky in recognition of their God after a successful moment on the field. OK. But if you tune in to the Tebow proselytizing throughout a game, it is outrageous in its persistence. NFL Films did an hour special on Tebow late in the season. Unlike the networks that cover live games, NFL films have microphones in the huddles, on the sidelines. You can hear every breath, every syllable.

When Tebow sits with the quarterback coach on the bench, when he approaches the guys in the huddle, when he runs to a wide receiver after a big play, he does say the right "football stuff." "Come on guys, this is THE 3rd down we need. We need it NOW." But before any syllable he utters, every single time, it is first "God is good." "God is great." "My God is an awesome God." "It's God's will." As he roams the sideline, mouthing, you think he's talking to the defense on the field, urging them on. No, he's singing, "God is my saviour. God is almighty."

He often gathers even the Christians on the other team after a game and gets them in a circle to kneel and pray together.

I say take it into the locker room. What if, at the end of every session of Congress, the Christians gathered and knelt and prayed together, right there on the Congress floor? As was true at the University of Florida, doesn't this constant Christian promotion, in a Broncos uniform, trump the other common bonds of the team? Doesn't Tebow separate himself from his non-Christian teammates?

Or am I just the kid who in first grade went to the principal to demand that I not be forced to speak aloud the words "Under God" in the pledge of allegiance to the flag? (Point of interest: The original Pledge of Allegiance, written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, did not have the words "Under God." President Eisenhower in 1954 requested that Congress add the two words, despite the protest of Bellamy's daughter.)

Tim Tebow is admirably inspired by his strong faith. He does many good works, from building schools for the poor to bringing disabled and underprivileged individuals to the sidelines of his games. His particular brand of Christianity requires that he spread the gospel far and wide. But when he wears a uniform, he owes that team the respect of making his faith more private expression, less public spectacle.

Around the Web

Tim Tebow: Living my religion - Under God - The Washington Post

Tim Tebow, and Keeping Religion Out of Football - NYTimes.com

Public displays of faith put Tim Tebow in the spotlight - USA Today

Tim Tebow Infiltrates the Secular Cathedral of Sport - Huffington Post

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