When Tim Tebow transitioned from college football to the NFL, he did so with all the poise and confidence of a prophet.
And why wouldn’t he? A Heisman trophy, two national college football championships within three years, an armful of MVP trophies, and records in passing efficiency and rushing touchdowns is enough to make anyone feel rather prophetic about their football future.
If that wasn’t enough, Tebow maintained a sizable constituency and fan base. As a wholesome, clean-cut, outspoken Christian athlete, Tebow has enjoyed a love affair with middle America.
In fact, when he would scrawl biblical verses on his black eye before games, those verses would garner tens of millions of Google searches within hours.
And after games, when Tebow would kneel on the game field and begin to do what the rest of us have for centuries called, well, prayer, our culture found a way to make his act bold, brave and innovative.
We even gave his move to pray after games a name: Tebowing. Certainly, we have made Mr. Tebow the synonym for religious purity in professional athletics.
There are other professional athletes to whom we have ascribed similar religious, virtuous characteristics.
Kurt Warner, Sandy Koufax, Steve Young, Phil Rivers, Josh Hamilton and many others, are among the many professional athletes we revere as not just Christians, but real and devout Christians; Christians who are not phonies. The real deal.
Incidentally, an overwhelming majority of the professional athletes we look up to as examples of authentic and devout Christians happen to be white.
And it’s not because there is a shortage of black professional athletes who are or have been devout Christians.
Jackie Robinson said he couldn’t have made it through the harsh and inhumane treatment he faced as the nation’s first black professional baseball player.
Reggie White was a Christian minister who prayed his way onto and off the playing field, and was uncontradicted by a single personal scandal.
Dwayne Wade wears the number three to invoke the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity, bought his mother her own church, and thanks God frequently in his interviews.
Russell Wilson, Derek Fisher, Cam Newton and Deon Sanders are all devout Christians. And this list is not all-inclusive.
But, there will never be an on field prayer called “Jackieing,” or “Reggieing” or even “Wading.” (Which would be a pretty grand name for a sports gesture.)
Why? Yes, part of the reason revolves around knee-jerk stereotyping.
“But, another reason black professional athletes are not usually touted as devout Christians lies within the type of Christianity the world believes black Americans practice. The truth is, there is an abiding notion that black Americans practice a different kind of Christianity than Whites — a counterfeit Christianity that allows blacks to value blackness over God.”
If we listen to announcers of professional sports, we understand that white athletes are generally “cerebral,” “methodical,” “measured,” “smart,” “gritty,” “class acts,” while black athletes are “naturally athletic,” “raw,” “undisciplined” and “fluid.” In this world, who then would also characterize a person who is raw and undisciplined as a devout anything?
But, another reason black professional athletes are not usually touted as devout Christians lies within the type of Christianity the world believes black Americans practice.
The truth is, there is an abiding notion that black Americans practice a different kind of Christianity than Whites — a counterfeit Christianity that allows blacks to value blackness over God.
Pseudo theologian Dave Daubenmire asserts that the kind of Christianity blacks in America practice is simply “not the same faith that their predecessors passed on to them.”
Mr. Daubenmire goes on to note that “Black Christianity is the birthing ground of racial prejudice and government dependence, impregnated by those who profit from fermenting racial hatred.”
Yes, and then there’s that. When black Americans take a religion created within Africa, on the the principles of a man with black skin, and use it to liberate and empower themselves, it is not authentic Christianity.
However, when that same religion is taken from Africa and used to oppress blacks, that is authentic. That is real Christianity.
This should all be inconsequential and non-sequitur in the world of professional sports. And perhaps in a perfect would it would be. However, this matters for legacy-setting’s sake.
While there are big names with big legacies in the world of sports, when we are shaping legacies the most unimpeachable ones are the ones sealed and fortified by integrity.
Honest Abe. George Washington who never told a lie. Jesus Christ who never sinned. Tim Tebow who was an upright, downright, forthright Christian. Those legacies last forever.
And that’s why it matters how black religious athletes are characterized. That’s why it matters how black people are characterized.
And I Tebow to God there is a change.