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Football and Religion: A (toxic) combo for Tim Tebow?

Ever since the NFL season got back on track this year, there seems to be an interesting fanaticism around certain players. Perhaps this is typical during pre-season, but it has an extra sting lately. The player of choice here in Colorado is Tim Tebow, Broncos (now) No. 2 quarterback and former University of Florida quarterback. Being a Florida native and UF alumnus, I am a Tebow fan (of his game and I must admit of his Jockey ads too). I watched in amazement as he brought an entire stadium to its feet just by the mention of his name at his very first game. I watched him win the Heisman Trophy with grace, take full responsibility for his team’s losses the following year and regularly and publicly pronounce his religious beliefs. But, after watching the news and social media networks rip him up last week, I quickly learned that he’s not everyone’s favorite.

Apparently, people either love him or hate Tebow with the same fanaticism typically seen by NASCAR fans. Take a look at these recent tweets:

Tim tebow will never be a good nfl player end of story.”

“Stop hatin on TIM TEBOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

“Tim Tebow has something most people dont.HEART.Those who say “it cant be done” are usually watching those who are Doing it. #realtalk”

“you know youre a bad football team when Tim tebow is your 2nd best quarterback”

“LeBron James & Tim Tebow: Which Disappointing Star Will Win a Ring First?”

“Can somebody please tell me why everybody is hating on Tim Tebow? He is only in his second year!”

“I fear what the Tea Party will do when they find out Tim Tebow lost his starting QB job in Denver.”

As I watch this love/hate relationship with Tebow unfold, I began to wonder what is it about this guy that brings out such emotion in people. Could it be that he was so hyped up during his college career that people are just plain tired of him? Sure. Could it be that Coloradoans just don’t get college football like we Southerners do? Maybe. Could it be that Tebow has been compared to John Elway, causing diehard Elway fans to dart the evil eye at this sophomore quarterback? Certainly. Any of these could be a reason. I think it’s much deeper than any of these though. I believe it is the strong tie between Tebow’s talent and his religion that sparks such emotion.

Generally speaking, football, like many religions, has a way of bringing out the best and worst in people. Fanatics tend to only love one team and/or player who they deem immortal and perfect. If the team wins, God was sure to be watching. The fanatic’s days of worship culminate mostly over the weekend and they repent in hopes of a fresh new start on Monday. They dress up (or down, depending how you look at it) for each game, only their teams’ colors will do. They give money to their alumni associations and seek out their team’s local clubs in search of camaraderie. At the end of every game, they feel tremendous joy or immense pain.

Since football and religion have a tendency to bring out the fanatical in people, it is easy to see how Tebow can be the center of this emotion. Love him or hate him, I believe he excels at his sport as well as his religion. It’s true other athletes have publicly addressed their religious beliefs, but Tebow’s approach is different. He doesn’t just thank God for his wins. He wears it on face, spends summers during missionary work and even starred in a Pro-life Super Bowl ad with his mother. He discusses religion as regularly as his football practices and no one seems to care. Or do they? Could it be that his love for his faith as well as his sport is a toxic combination for fans? Could it be that this combination brings out the best and worst in people in a whole new way?

Some people like Gregg Doyel from CBSSport.com aren’t quite comfortable with Tebow’s blatant use of religion. But, I wonder, do fans love him for his sport, his faith or both? Will his fans love him if he doesn’t succeed? Will they praise him and God if he does? Does it really matter? After all, he’s just a quarterback, who happens to be very religious.

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