|Denver Broncos Quarterback Tim Tebow in prayer|
Denver Broncos loss in the NFL playoffs to the New
England Patriots, the excitement that developed following the team’s win
against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the notoriety of their famous
quarterback Tim Tebow lead Zenit to interview Fr. Kevin Lixey,
LC, about “Tebow-Mania.”
ROME, JAN. 13, 2012
(Zenit.org).- The director of the "Church and
Sport" section at the Pontifical Council for the Laity admits
that the "Tim Tebow phenomenon" has heightened his interest in
the NFL playoffs.
of Christ Father Kevin Lixey works in the Roman Curia
helping the Church make a contribution to the world of
sport, with the aim of promoting a sports culture suitable
to the integral development of the individual.
ZENIT spoke with Father Lixey about the Denver
Broncos quarterback, Tim Tebow, after Tebow led his team to
an overtime win in last Sunday´s playoff game.
Those familiar with the NFL --
and even those who are not -- might have heard
of Tebow for more than his unique style as a
quarterback. His outward expressions of his Christian faith are being
talked about by all sorts of commentators, in the world
of American football and beyond. Though certainly not the only
athlete to publicly express his faith on the field, Tebow
is drawing more attention than usual. We asked Father Lixey
what he thinks about that.
ZENIT: Do you see Tim Tebow´s public expression of faith
as a positive or negative phenomenon? Certainly it is drawing
a lot of attention to Christ, in one form or
Father Lixey: The
hype over Tim Tebow is certainly an interesting phenomenon in
an ever more secularized world. I consider it something very
positive. Even at the college level, while quarterback for the
Florida Gators during the 2009 Bowl Championship Series title contest,
Tebow wrote "John 3:16" on his eye black. The Palm
Beach Post reported that 92 million people Googled the verse
following the game ... impressive!
But, it is not the mere public expression of
faith -- as Tebow drops a knee to give thanks
after a touchdown, or prays with other players who include
teammates and opponents after the game -- that is attracting
people; it is his entire person.
I had the chance to speak with the
offensive coordinator who coached Tim at the Florida Gators. He
said he was a very unique player who was spiritually
on another stratosphere with respect to the rest of the
team. Yet, Tim was respected by his teammates because he
was genuine. And this is the point I would like
to touch on. As one reporter noted (Chuck Klosterman, Dec.
6, 2011): "This, I think, is what makes Tebow so
maddening to those who hate him: He refuses to say
anything that would validate the suspicion that he´s fake (or
naïve or self-righteous or dumb)."
While Tebow certainly sticks out for these external manifestations
of his faith, not to mention his unorthodox playing style
as an NFL quarterback, his personal background is also not
typical for an NFL quarterback. It is a real "Cinderella"
story -- although those who have to tackle Tim would
not consider him a Cinderella.
First of all, Tim Tebow was born in the Philippines
to American parents who were serving as Baptist missionaries, as
his father is a pastor. His mother, while pregnant, suffered
a life-threatening infection and was advised to have an abortion
but she decided not to, and both Tim and his
mother survived a difficult pregnancy. Another unique aspect is that
Tim, like his four older siblings, was home-schooled. Thanks to
legislation that was passed in Florida in 1996, home-schooled students
were allowed to compete in local high school sporting events.
ZENIT: OK, but does prayer
really have a place in football? Surely God doesn´t care
about who wins the Super Bowl -- or does he?
Father Lixey: Judging from his
public statements, Tebow is one of the few and most
prominent religious athletes to recognize that God does not care
about the score of football games. Tebow considers his missionary
and philanthropic work much more important than football, but at
the same time, possible, because of it. We all too
often equate prayer with only asking good things from God,
where prayer is only used "to obtain something" i.e., victory,
health, or a miracle. The Catechism reminds us that prayer
is also "the raising of one´s mind and heart to
God" and that "we must remember God more often that
we draw breath."
there are moments and places more conducive to prayer, but
there is no reason that all religious manifestations be entirely
banned from the public square. These external manifestations of one´s
beliefs are impressive precisely because they are public. Just as
Christians once fell to their knees at the sound of
the Angelus bell to remember the Incarnation, or just as
the cab driver makes the point of getting out of
his car to bow down toward Mecca in prayer, I
see no reason why a professional football player cannot offer
a prayer of thanksgiving or point to heaven instead of
doing a lewd victory dance in the end zone.
Nonetheless, these external manifestations can
make some people feel uneasy and it is not certain
how long this will be "allowed" in the NFL. The
Danish Football Federation complained to FIFA for permitting members of
the Brazilian national to gather together in prayer after their
victory of the 2009 Confederations Cup. FIFA´s president responded by
warning that any religious manifestation would not be permitted in
the 2010 World Cup.
Along those lines, the Tebow "phenomenon" comes at a time
when the U.S. bishops are particularly concerned about religious freedom.
Is reaction to Tebow´s public expression of faith a sign
that their concern is warranted? Or misplaced? Or is religious
freedom on the playing field one thing, and in the
public square something else?
Lixey: Pope Benedict XVI is also particularly concerned about religious
freedom and touched upon this point Monday in his address
to members of the diplomatic corps, noting: "In many countries
Christians are deprived of fundamental rights and sidelined from public
life; in other countries they endure violent attacks against their
churches and their homes."
Obviously the Holy Father was not speaking about the FIFA
decision to sideline religion. But it does raise the question:
"What is the public square today?" Is it literally that
quaint square in front of a town hall somewhere in
New England, where perhaps it is no longer permissible to
display a Nativity scene? Or is it the Internet, a
person´s desk at work, or the professional football stadium?
I think many are impressed
with Tim Tebow´s courage in professing his faith for he
certainly is mocked for it. When he received flack for
doing a pro-life ad with "Focus on the Family" that
ran during the 2010 Superbowl, he said: "I know some
people won´t agree with it, but I think they can
at least respect that I stand up for what I
believe in." This is all Tim is asking. Whether it
is standing up, or taking a knee, for what he
believes in, many people do respect this, that he stands
up for what he believes. Yet, others become infuriated as
they consider Tebow guilty of breaching the line that all
are supposed to respect, namely, that which separates the secular
from the religious, the holy from the profane, the sacred
from the everyday.
Catholics, what can we learn from this situation -- from
Tebow himself, perhaps, and from the reactions he´s causing?
Father Lixey: Blessed John Paul II
once reminded a group of top professional soccer players: "The
eyes of sports fans throughout the world are fixed on
you. Be conscious of your responsibility! It is not only
the champion in the stadium but also the whole person
who should become a model for millions of young people,
who need ´leaders,´ not ´idols.´ They need men who can
convey to them the zest for challenge, a sense of
discipline, the courage to be honest and the joy of
I believe Tim Tebow
is trying to live up to these words of John
Paul II and his example can prompt other athletes to
be "leaders" and not idols, being a model on and
off the field, especially of the corporal works of mercy.
As Tim shares in his own words: "When I was
a student at the University of Florida, I found great
joy in taking time to encourage children suffering from cancer
in hospitals or visiting a prison or juvenile detention center,
or doing mission work with my family at Uncle Dick´s
Orphanage in the Philippines. … Football is so popular (that)
it enables an athlete like me to establish a platform
for doing good deeds … to take this experience to
an even greater level of outreach and influence. … After
my professional career, I plan on giving my life full
time to this outreach."
not a bad role model for the youth. … It´s
not a bad example for us to follow either.