Hang Up the Cleats, Tim Tebow
Here’s an exercise in understatement: Tim Tebow attracts attention. The fact that this article was written by a 45 year-old Idahoan of middling athletic ability who has but a moderate interest in professional sports underscores his nearly ubiquitous public presence. These days I read about sports far more than I watch them, and the former football hero’s foray into the baseball arena had me tapping my smartphone screen along with millions of others: “He’s doing what?!”
And like many of those others, my interest is spurred as much (or rather, more) by his professions of faith as by his athletic prowess. Being a Christian myself, Tebow’s various headline-grabbing deeds on field and off have kept me curious; curious enough, even, to read his autobiography, Through My Eyes. And it is from the perspective of believer – as opposed to sporting expert – that I submit my take on his latest aspirations.
What’s the old phrase about riddles wrapped in enigmas? Details notwithstanding, the description seems to fit Tebow to a T. His well-documented insistence on “Tebowing,” for example, had me conflicted. Jesus taught, “…when you pray, enter into your closet… and your Father which sees in secret will reward you openly” (see Matthew 6:6). So it looked like Tim deserved a penalty flag, until I considered the practice of the Old Testament hero Daniel, who kneeled before his open windows and prayed toward Jerusalem three times a day – despite the king’s commandment to the contrary (see Daniel chapter 6). This refusal to conform resulted in Daniel’s famous trip to the lion’s den, a fate Tebow seems to metaphorically share from time to time. The “showiness” of the latter’s habit was (in my mind at least) somewhat mitigated by his faithfulness to it; it was not a one-time photo-op, but an established commitment to which he clung despite considerable backlash.
In late 2015, it was Tebow’s extracurricular activities – or lack thereof – which whetted the appetite of public interest. Media sites were abuzz with the news that his beauty queen girlfriend (allegedly) dropped him due to his adherence to a pledge of abstinence from premarital sex. From the Christian point of view, I was once again perplexed: I mentally applauded him for sticking to principle while wondering why he had dated the woman in the first place. Scripture is clear; believers should not be “unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14). One can scarcely think of a situation to which the Apostle Paul’s admonition is more applicable than that of romance and potential marriage.
I could perhaps expound upon more examples of this conundrum, of which the reader may already be well aware. The gist is that Tim Tebow appears to frequently risk skirting the rules when it comes to Christ’s own proclamation regarding a man trying to serve two masters (Luke 16:13). Granted, Jesus was speaking here about money, and by my observation Tebow doesn’t seem obsessed with monetary greed (though a report that he’s already signing baseballs for upwards of $100 called that into question, too). But the principle applies to any situation in which one’s spiritual loyalty is split, whether it involves sex, drugs, fame, or even athletic aspirations… which brings me back to the latest Tebow news.
Reports and comments regarding his baseball efforts have been mixed, as usual. Detractors have said that he’s disrespecting the sport, and that if he gets a job it will only be for the sake of filling minor league venues. His advocates counter that he acquitted himself respectably at his recent workout before representatives of all but two major league teams, and that no one should be denied the opportunity to pursue a dream. On these counts, my gut-level tendency is to side with the latter group; certainly he has demonstrated that above all else, he’s willing to work hard to make his goals become reality.
The difficulty, from the Christian’s perspective, lies with the aforementioned loyalty issue. Jesus called believers “the salt of the earth,” and any believer worth his or her salt can tell you that he also taught that following him required forsaking all else (Luke 14:33). Anything that is in competition for allegiance to Jesus must be eradicated if one is to be a disciple, and Tebow should understand better than most what competition means. To compete successfully, one must make sacrifices. Should he accomplish the unlikely and reach the majors, what will he do in a day and age when his team hosts “LGBT Pride Night” (as the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets - two of his apparent suitors - have already done)? I’ve seen images of Tebow displaying the Nike Swoosh and wondered how he can align himself with a company that had no problem proclaiming, “Winning takes care of everything.” By my analysis, ethical consistency will be impossible to maintain.
Setting aside certain modern interpretations of Scripture, there are some things that just don’t go together. I think a major part of the issue that many have with Tim Tebow is that they recognize the incongruity of his professional aspirations and his spiritual affirmations. Maybe they can’t articulate the problem; not all are brushed up on their Bible verses. But at some level, people see a man straddling the border between two opposing territories, and it rubs them wrong (1 John 2:15).
It is for this reason that I would wholeheartedly encourage Tim Tebow to relinquish his hopes of professional athleticism. I don’t doubt either his God-given ability or his long-practiced (and proven) determination. I admire his perseverance in the face of so much naysaying, and I’ve appreciated his willingness to publicly stand on the unpopular side of certain moral issues. I’ve been privately convicted by his work ethic: “What might I accomplish if I put forth that much effort?” Despite all this, I know that he’s human, and is therefore subject to the same limitations as any other human. I can't say that Tebow is guilty of hypocrisy or disingenuousness; only naïveté. In the cited passage about attempting to serve two masters, Jesus went on to say that a man “will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.” I believe that by continuing to try to ingratiate himself with entities that are increasingly hostile to “traditional” Christian values, he is sowing the seeds of his own spiritual undoing.
It’s time to let it go, Mr. Tebow. Keep swinging, and you might achieve some notable things in baseball. Take a walk, and you might achieve far more elsewhere. Doing both strikes me as untenable.