Tebowmania and More: America's View of Christian Athletes

Ginny McCabe | Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer | Monday, April 9, 2012

Tebowmania and More: America's View of Christian Athletes

Tim Tebow is a phenomenon. With his faith in God at the forefront, he has clearly made a lasting impact on American culture. Yet, long before there was Tebowmania, Tebowing and Tebow Time, there were those in his hometown of Jacksonville, Fla., who simply knew him as Timmy. Regardless of the titles or nicknames that fans know him by, it is no surprise that many people in the United States readily identify first with Tim Tebow.

According to a new study released by Grey Matter Research & Consulting, LLC, Tim Tebow is undeniably the No. 1 name half of Americans surveyed think of when they think about an athlete who is highly involved in his religious faith.

The survey asked participants the single question: When they think about well-known athletes who are particularly religious or involved in their religious faith, which one athlete comes to mind first? Exactly half of all American adults named Tebow as the person they think of first. Fourteen percent think about some other individual (with no consensus as to who that is), while 36 percent of Americans say nobody at all comes to mind.

“I look up to Tim Tebow,” said Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Bill Bray. “There’s a guy that’s on the biggest spotlight in our country, playing every Sunday, taking the hardest questions and the constant criticism and the man’s never backed down. That’s huge.

“Most people would shrink away from the spotlight and questioning. He hasn’t backed down once, and he hasn’t done anything that would suggest that he doesn’t live out his faith. He’s an inspiration for me and I would like to be more like him.”

In a recent telephone interview with Crosswalk.com, Bray credited his own faith and his family for his success in Major League Baseball.

“My faith is what cements everything together," said Bray. "Being an athlete, there are a lot of times where there is a lot of change. Everything is constantly changing. Whether that is the cities you play in, your teammates, the team you play for, whether you’re injured or not, everything is always changing. The one thing about Christ is that He is always the same. He is always there for you and with you, going through what you’re going through. He always has my back, so to speak.

“That’s one thing I try to hold onto. That even though everything around me is always changing, I always have that Rock to anchor myself to, no matter which way the wind blows. As long as I stay centered on Him, I always know where I’m at.”

David Wilkins II, former defensive end for the San Francisco 49ers, said he has a lot of respect for Tebow, because he’s a winner.

“I liked watching him in college," Wilkins said. "They were winners and they went to the national championships. I liked his determination and grit. They lost one time and the camera showed him over on the sidelines. He didn’t get mad and go off on his teammates. Instead, he said, we played bad, but we’ll never lose again. People rally around that kind of an attitude. He’s a winner.”

Reflecting on his own National Football League (NFL) career, Wilkins said it wasn’t difficult to be a believer in the NFL, but that players can still encounter a lot of obstacles, such as getting injured.

“You know that there’s a higher power that has His hand on your life,” he said. “To make it to the next level in the NFL, you thank God for the talent you’ve been blessed with and that you are blessed enough to be in the NFL.

“When people look at me, I just want people to see God in me and His light shining through me, every day."

Wilkins affirmed that it’s common for many of the members of a team or a particular football organization to go to a church service or chapel on a typical Sunday morning.

“It’s funny that people consider Tim Tebow as the only guy who is very faithful in the NFL," he said. "When I played, there were many guys, who had strong faith in the Lord. On game day, if you wanted to go, they would have mass or a church service and there were 20 or more guys who were always there. Now, they market it differently, but there are a lot of guys like Tim Tebow in the NFL.”

He said other Christian players were writing scriptures and inspirational sayings on their shoes long before Tebow.

“We are just like everyone else. We just have a camera in our face and people are waiting for something to happen,” Wilkins said. “There are so many guys in football, baseball and basketball that are doing great things, but what everybody wants to see are the failures.”

Regardless of the constant media frenzy, New York Jet Tebow’s contagious fame and popularity are rooted in his solid Christian values and strong leadership skills.

“I admire his determination and leadership on and off the field, and his willingness to unashamedly profess his faith in Christ," said Dr. David Faust, president of Cincinnati Christian University (CCU). "Many people believe the Christian gospel as Tim does, but not many are so willing to simply put their faith out there in the public arena."

Tebow is scheduled to appear at CCU later this month for a two-part event, “A Talk With Tebow" and a "Leadership Initiative 2012 With Tim Tebow." For more information about CCU and other upcoming events, visit www.ccuniversity.edu. (A few tickets are still available for the Leadership Initiative banquet on April 25 and the cut-off date to order is April 9.)

“At CCU, our mission is building Christian leaders to serve the church and shape the world," Faust said. "Tim's testimony aligns very well with this mission. We invited him to CCU because we want our students and our community to hear the positive Christ-centered message he brings."

Released on March 12, 2012, Grey Matter Research's survey revealed that Tebow is by far the best-known religious athlete in the United States. The results showed that awareness is even high among people who aren’t religious and who don’t follow sports. It may be shocking to some, but 61 percent of atheists and agnostics still name Tebow as the religious athlete they think of first.

The New York Knicks’ Jeremy Lin’s absence from this list could be explained by the fact that the study may have been conducted before the more recent wildfire of publicity surrounding him – another phenomenon dubbed as “Linsanity.”

In addition to Tebow, the names that people mentioned in the survey as being “religious” athletes represented a wide range, including Troy Polamalu, Kurt Warner, Dwight Howard, Josh Hamilton, Steve Young, Drew Brees, Derek Fisher, Albert Pujols and Darrel Waltrip. Football, basketball and baseball were among the top sports recognized in the survey. For complete survey results, visit www.greymatterresearch.com/index_files/Athletes.htm.

“In terms of what led me to do the research, this was a marriage of two areas of expertise for Grey Matter – sports and the Christian community,” said Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter. “Sometimes, since I am the primary decision-maker, I get to have some fun with the various research that we do and that is part of what gave birth to the religious athletes question. I am just a huge sports fan.”

At press time, Tebow was not available for comment. His publicist at Harper Collins, the publisher of his book, Through My Eyes, said unfortunately he was unavailable for interviews at this time. For the latest news and updates on Tim Tebow, go to www.timtebow.com.

Ginny McCabe is an author, feature and entertainment writer from Cincinnati, Ohio. You may email her at [email protected], or visit www.gmwriteon.com/.

Publication date: April 9, 2012

Tebowmania and More: America's View of Christian Athletes