Many journalists recognize that Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has become a lightning rod for religious conflict in America. What some columnists seem less willing to recognize is the intense hatred that he has engendered among those offended by his Christianity.
A Dec. 6 USA Today article by Reid Cherner, "Why Tebow Stirs Debate," acknowledged that Tebow's very public expressions of faith have caused intense religious controversy, and made some people uncomfortable. Cherner also quoted former Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer criticizing Tebow for excessively preaching his outspoken religious faith.
But the article only mentioned the angst Tebow's religion might cause other people. It whitewashed the anti-religious anger and vitriol Tebow himself has faced.
Hatred against Tim Tebow is ever-present among many. One sportswriter compared Tebow's evident faith in God to blasphemy. Anti-Tebow websites and Twitter memes blast the quarterback as a loser. Detroit Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch mocked Tebow after sacking him by mimicking Tebow's trademark prayerful pose.
Some NFL analysts have been quick to dismiss Tebow as a flash in the pan and not a real NFL quarterback, even after his 6-1 record since taking over for the Denver Broncos. Merril Hoge declared that "I haven't seen any improvement. His gimmicks are working now. But when you have to play real football, he won't be able to do it." Before the Broncos-Vikings game on Dec 4, Terry Bradshaw said of Tebow that "he's actually a fullback playing quarterback, but it doesn't matter because all he does is drop back and look for Eric Decker." (A few hours later, Tebow passed for 202 yards in a win against the Minnesota Vikings - only 25 of them went to Eric Decker.)
But other NFL analysts have admitted that Tim Tebow is hated for his outspoken Christian way of life, not for his admittedly questionable mechanics. Former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Cris Collinsworth argued that Tebow has been hated because of his faith, and lamented that Tebow was "a guy we're going to vilify." Stephen A. Smith, who has been critical of Tebow as a quarterback, argued in a similar vein: "When they look at the common athlete, and they say that there is no way they can live up to that - you know, you're wearing your religion on your sleeve, you're getting down on one knee, you're praising God at every turn - which I applaud, by the way - you're doing all these things, you're celibate, you're not going to engage in - oh! People aren't trying to hear that! They don't want to be subjected to those kinds of standards because in their heart of hearts, they don't want to be forced to have to live up to it."
This has been echoed outside the NFL world. Daniel Foster of National Review Online blamed the hatred against Tebow on his clean lifestyle, which flies in the face of fans' jaded conception of athletes. And in an online column for USA Today, Larry Taunton said of the QB's detractors, "Their dislike for Tim Tebow is not, as they would have us believe, about his throwing motion or his completion percentage; it's all about his open professions of faith and his goody-two shoes image."
Tim Tebow has thrust religious controversy into football. But commentators like Cherner should acknowledge where the angry, strident voices in that controversy are coming from.