Monday, January 9, 2012

There have been a lot of things written about Tim Tebow this entire year, but especially today since the Denver Broncos defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in a battle of virtue (Tebow, who is chaste) versus vice (Roethlisberger, who has been accused in the past of crimes against chastity and much worse).  But that is unfair to both men, one who might have repented of past sins and another who might have committed them unbeknownst to us, and to their teams. For, as Tebow knows, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). For all I know the Steelers have more devout Christians, Jews and Buddhists tackling and injuring people than the Broncos do. But, it is all crazy, to try to make sports a morality tale more than entertainment, fun and camaraderie, and to make sports victory hinge upon morality and religious belief. God cares about everybody on every field of play.

We know nothing of these men except what they show to us on the field and in monotone press conferences. But even if we knew them inside and out, how would that impact their wins and losses and whether they deserved them or not? We do not know any of these men who play sports, unless we actually know who they are as real people not just visions on the screen. They become useful ciphers for our visions of what are athletes should or should not be, whether they seem like thugs or like saints.  Yet, we do not know how much they struggle, how many hurts they have, or how constant criticism and nattering on 24 sports networks and radio call-in shows impacts their day-to-day existence.  The older I get, though, the more I look at how young these athletes are and how burdened they are with the outsized hopes of young and old men, who put far too much pressure on them, who give them far too much money and grant far too much importance to their wins in evaluating the worth of their lives. No wonder so many of them crack in a variety of ways.

Tebow seems to be a genuinely devout Christian and I have no reason to question him. As I wrote in late December, “He annoys, irritates and bugs people because of his faith, and those are just the Christians.  I have to admit that his type of Christian witnessing grates on me, but it is hard not to acknowledge what a fine young man he is and how hard he is working at being a fine young man. When I stand back from my mature critical irony, I must accept that he creates a lot of joy, even for me, and that since there is more joy in heaven, he reveals a little slice of heaven.”  His type of Christian witnessing grates on me partly because it is like sports and the athletes it revels in: it does not teach us much about the real person. It is only a symbol, a sign, but real living takes place not only when cameras are on. This is not an indictment of Tebow, it is an indictment of sports fans. It is only in true relationship that we come to know people and God and that cannot be done in sound bites or in prayers after games. I hope for him that the pressure of being "the Christian" does not become a temptation or a struggle. For we all struggle, if in different ways.

One of my favorite athletes right now is Michael Beasley, a supremely talented basketball player for the Minnesota Timberwolves, who sometimes seems to take himself out of games mentally. He has been suspended or checked into rehab at least a couple of times for using banned substances. In basketball, the players are so present to the fans and you can see their faces – expressions, grimaces, disappointment – and hear their voices. Beasley seems often to be floating psychically in and out of games, talking to the net, himself and the other players. Beasley might seem like the anti-Tebow, yet I love Beasley and his transcendent ability to float in the air. That, though, is only sports love. I love Beasley because I hope the best for him and just see him as a young man struggling to put his life together. Whether he wins scoring titles or NBA championships does not matter as much as whether he lives a good and happy life, at peace with those around him, himself and God.  This, too, is what I want for Tebow. Most fans will not care as much about Beasley as they do about Tebow, and that makes sense. But God cares just as much about Beasley, as he does about those of us who are not athletes, and as Tebow himself proclaims, God does not care who wins games.

Sports is just sports, and whether  the Steelers or Broncos win, or the Patriots, Ravens, Giants or Packers; it is only a game, whose real joys and agonies are fleeting and which must be kept in proper perspective.  Though I am beginning to believe that although God does not care who wins, he takes peculiar delight in the Vancouver Canucks losing Stanley Cup Finals.

John W. Martens

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