Humility is not a virtue readily found in America today – especially on the field of play. A football player makes a touchdown, a forward slam dunks the ball, or a designated hitter rockets a grand slam out of the park, and it’s all about high-stepping, chest-bumping, trash-talking and other over-the-top behaviors intended to send the message, “I am the greatest.”
We’ve come to expect it. They don’t call this the “me” generation for nothing.
Perhaps this is part of why Tim Tebow’s conduct on the football field evokes so much antipathy from so many in the media and others in the ranks of professional sports. Tebow, you will recall, is the former Florida Gator who led his team to a national championship and picked up a Heisman trophy along the way. He is a gifted athlete, a man of excellent character, and a tremendous team leader. Despite this, the general consensus was that he didn’t have have the tools or the talent to compete at the next level. According to most pro-scouts and experienced analysts, his unorthodox throwing style and lack of mobility in the pocket made success as an NFL quarterback virtually impossible. He might have had a good run in college, but not everyone is cut out for the big leagues.
That was then, and this is now. With Tebow’s Denver Broncos at 7 and 2, the pundits and the critics are completely beside themselves. Not only were they dead wrong in their predictions of his professional failure, they are perplexed and offended by his refusal to conform to the NFL culture. Tebow doesn’t dance and prance and take all the credit when he does something good – which is often. Instead, he has this annoying habit of dropping to one knee and thanking God and giving credit to his teammates when good things happen for his team. Thanking God, as if He has anything to do with it! Crediting his teammates when he should claim the glory for himself! Who does this guy think he is? What a phony, goody-two-shoes!
Tebow’s unabashed faith in Christ of course gives his critics a license to criticize him and mock his religion. If he were a Muslim, cultural sensitivity would compel any would-be critics to bite their tongues and mute their voices. Muslims take their religion very seriously, and they don’t take slights lightly. Just ask Theodore Van Gogh or Salman Rushdie. But Tebow worships Jesus, meek and mild. This is the same Jesus who said “love your enemies” and “bless them that persecute you.” There is little fear of repercussions for blasting Jesus or his servant Timothy, since neither will respond in kind. So Tebow’s critics are letting the invective fly.
For his part, Tebow is handling the criticism with quiet dignity. He hasn’t lashed out in anger and he continues to take a knee. This knee-taking is deemed so novel by his critics that the behavior has become known as “Tebowing.” (Christians who have been doing it for two thousand years just call it “kneeling.”)
In resisting the temptation to take credit for his considerable accomplishments, Tebow is acting in the finest Christian tradition. The apostle Paul exhorted Christ’s followers to, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Phil 2:3,NIV). In so doing, Paul urged Christians to follow the example of Jesus himself:
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:5-8)
Like humility, servanthood is not something Americans like to think about, much less emulate. Yet, the Creator of the World – Jesus, the king of glory – became a humble and despised servant that we might be saved from our sins. In recognition of that fact, Tim Tebow takes a knee to give thanks to the Creator who’s blessed him with all he has and all he is, rather than take credit for his own accomplishments.
Despite his considerable prowess on the football field, Tebow is just a mere mortal and is beset by the same human frailties that afflict the rest of the human race. It is a condition that Christians call the “sin nature,” and it means that notwithstanding his best efforts, Tim Tebow will eventually stumble and fall, just like the rest of us. This is why, he would acknowledge, he worships a Savior who is capable of forgiving his sins.
In the meantime, however, Tebow is an inspiration to others who are far less gifted but who share his faith – even sinful Seminoles like me who grew up hating Gators!
Ken Connor is an attorney and co-author of “Sinful Silence: When Christians Neglect Their Civic Duty” He is also Chairman of the Center for a Just Society.
Publication date: December 22, 2011