Religion, Sport and Tim Tebow
I’m not generally keen on what seems to be an increasing trend for overt displays of religion in the sporting arena. If sportsmen and women believe in God, that’s fair enough. If they constantly mention it in interviews, I suppose I can live with it, although it would irritate me as much as when they’re constantly mentioning their sponsor. And when a sporting career is sacrificed in the name of that religion, as with Euan Murray and Jonathan Edwards (his subsequent change of mind and eventual atheism notwithstanding), I find it very puzzling, although the sacrifice involved is something that I can’t help but admire and respect. I’m just not so relaxed when they bring this onto the field of play.
It must be hard to strike a balance in what you do to acknowledge your religion in a sporting environment (if you feel the need to do so at all), but I rarely see anything that impresses me. Some actions tend to come over as superstitious (e.g. crossing yourself all the time), while some are just plain crass, like the way God seems to get thanked all the time by the winners of sprint races. Did the other guys pray insufficiently often, or to the wrong God? Does God simply like the winner more than the others? If different people win from week to week, does that mean God’s as fickle as a two-bit whore? It just seems ridiculous.
And then I read this article on Tim Tebow. I’m not aware that I’d ever heard of him before, mainly due to being on the wrong side of the Atlantic, and I could tell instantly that he was someone I wouldn’t really get on with. But then I read the article. And I can’t quite put my finger on the reasons why, but a few things clicked when I did.
I can’t exactly say that I’m converted to the idea of ostentatious prayer poses after scoring. I don’t suddenly believe that God has favourites. But it set me thinking, and it’s given me a different perspective. It made me wonder if the act of thanking God for every victory was less about divine favouritism and more in a spirit of being grateful for what each of us has. That’s a perfectly sensible sentiment, which shouldn’t change just because you’re at the top of your field. The expression of that gratitude may often be rather clumsy, but these are sportsmen, not theologians or philosophers, and someone’s got to win, after all.
In a competitive world like professional sports, where fine margins are the difference between victory and defeat, religion could represent that extra 1% that everyone’s striving for, even without any suggestion that God’s running a massive match-fixing operation. Maybe their beliefs are true, maybe they aren’t, but if they generate confidence, it isn’t hard to see why so many make a big deal out of them. It’s certainly no less rational than always putting your left shoe on before your right, or bouncing the ball a certain number of times, or even wearing a nasal strip.
I want to draw some sort of conclusion out of all this, but I don’t know if I have one. I haven’t really reached a conclusion at all, just started to question some assumptions I previously held. Maybe all I can conclude is that it’s important to keep an open mind and always try to consider others’ actions/beliefs in the best possible light. That sounds like a pretty good rule to live by.