I’ve been watching Tim Tebow’s (attempted) transition to “NFL Quarterback” from “Arguably One of the Greatest College Football Players of All Time” with great interest. The thing that interests me most is the number of people, pundits, fans, and otherwise, who seem to be actively rooting for Tebow to fail. In this morning’s “The Blitz” segment on ESPN’s SportsCenter, Chris Berman and Tom Jackson wondered aloud about Tebow’s army of detractors. Now, it’s not uncommon for a successful college player to inspire skepticism about his ability to succeed at the next level, and Tebow certainly has. His delivery is too long, he’s too short, he doesn’t know how to play under center, etc. These criticisms are all accurate, and may well prevent him from being a successful NFL quarterback. But it is rare for a player who has been so successful to have so many people hoping for his failure. What is it about Tebow that causes such animosity? Berman and Jackson are at a loss. I’m not: Tebow is, to the naked eye, an unassailably good person. And people hate him for it.
Tim Tebow is a Christian, has publicly stated that he’s a virgin and will be until he’s married, has served on overseas missions, prays on the sidelines…he doesn’t hide his lamp under a bushel; No! He’s gonna let it shine. But even that’s not enough to inspire the antagonism that he has. If he was just “holier than thou,” he could be dismissed as yet another self-righteous, hypocritical Christian, and wouldn’t inspire such hatred. Tebow’s problem is that he actually appears to BE holier than thou (holier than all of us)! He doesn’t talk about his religion unless he’s asked, he doesn’t talk about his virginity unless he’s asked, he doesn’t talk about anything other than football, working hard to be the best player he can be, and winning…unless he’s asked. Which he is. A lot.
Tebow never asked to be the starter this season over Kyle Orton. Never asked to have his name chanted in stadiums. All he ever said was that he’d work as hard as he could and that, as any player would, he wanted to play. It’s not his fault that he’s been a topic on sports talk shows for a year straight, tiring all the pundits out. Tebow inspires rebellion because he appears to be that thing that we all fear most: a righteous man.
We’re not afraid of a hypocrite; in fact, hypocrisy relieves us. We’re hypocrites. That, we get. We fear the thing that judges us. True righteousness throws our sinfulness into sharp relief. Clearly, Tebow (and he would, no doubt, be the first to admit that he isn’t) is not truly righteous. Nonetheless, his apparent righteousness inspires hate, because it reminds us all of our shortcomings. We don’t spend every summer overseas teaching poor children about Jesus. We don’t reject endorsement deals on moral grounds. We didn’t save ourselves for marriage. We aren’t as conscientious or hard-working. And if we did or were, we’d certainly brag about it. Compared to Tim Tebow, we are all sinners.
We rebel against God for the same reason. We must run from righteousness because it will destroy us, so far from its perfection are we. In the same way that standing in a room with Brad Pitt only serves to remind us how unattractive we are, being in a relationship with God serves to remind us how unholy we are. We need Tim Tebow to fail, and so we root for it, so that he can be shown to be imperfect, just like us.