What should I be doing instead of this?
February 2nd, 2012 By Kevin Osborne | News | Posted In: Religion, Media Criticism

Tebow, Islam and Bad Columnists

tebowJulie Jacobson/Associated Press

A recent plodding column by The Enquirer’s Krista Ramsey asked the red herring question in its headline, “So what if Tebow believes his audience is God?” Tebow, of course, refers to Tim Tebow, the quarterback for the Denver Broncos who has a tendency to dramatically kneel down on the gridiron, close his eyes and pray before games.

Tebow’s showy, ultra-demonstrative displays have drawn some criticism. Although the player says he does it to honor God and get nonbelievers curious about his faith, many people counter the display is more about drawing attention to Tebow than to any divine entity or creed.

Even more than other media outlets grappling for market share,
The Enquirer is obsessed with Internet hits. (At one time, some bonuses for editors were based on reaching quotas for web hits.) So, it wasn’t too surprising that Ramsey rolled out a hackneyed “Christian as suffering martyr” theme in her Jan. 12 column. Surely, she knew it would be red meat for all the evangelical Christians in southwest Ohio that would be compelled to check out its content.

Ramsey couldn’t understand why Tebow’s prayers before the TV cameras disturbed so many.

“His faith is who the man is, even more than his ability to run the football or rally his team from a fourth-quarter deficit,” Ramsey wrote. “The notion that anyone can simply segregate his religious beliefs — slice them off from the rest of his identity — is a patronizing thought. The idea that Tebow should do it because his beliefs make others uncomfortable is truly an arrogant one.”

Ramsey, it seems, either has had an intimate conversation with Tebow or can somehow otherwise peer into his thoughts and judge him pure in mind and character. Praise be!

Readers probably shouldn’t expect much insight from Ramsey. She is, after all, the same columnist who once wrote a gushy column commemorating Joe Deters and his 12 ½ years in office, making him the longest-serving Hamilton County prosecutor in history.

In the piece, Ramsey praised Deters for his work ethic and long days spent at the office. As most of Deters’ staffers can tell you, he’s rarely in the office. That leaves him ample time to moonlight at a private job, unlike most county prosecutors, for Stan Chesley’s firm. But I digress.

The clueless columnist completely misses the larger issues at play in the controversy over “Tebowing.”

First, exactly what does Tebow pray for before the game? Is it for strength or safety, or for something more crass like a Broncos’ victory? According to Ben McGrath’s New Yorker profile, young Mr. Tebow might not be so selfless:

“That was a huge play,” Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow said. Yes, there was the rookie linebacker making a clutch, overtime tackle of San Diego Chargers running back Mike Tolbert for a four-yard loss. The play forced the Chargers into a just-too-long 53-yard overtime field goal attempt that wound up off course.

Not that Tebow saw either play.

“I can’t say I saw too much of it,” Tebow said. “I was praying.”

Praying for a miss?

“I might have said that,” Tebow laughed. “Or maybe a block. Maybe all of it.”

How inspiring.

Another point missed by Ramsey is whether such ostentatious displays are truly Christian. Here’s what the Bible has to say about public prayer:

(Matthew 6:5-6)

5. And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites [are]: For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

6. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

Even worse, Ramsey missed the overarching aspect to the controversy: Would NFL fans be as tolerant if Tebow was Muslim, knelt on a prayer mat and faced Mecca before a game? Or how about if he was Buddhist, and did chants?

A real columnist would’ve explored this uncomfortable point, instead of merely trying to mollify readers with treacle.

A column by Marcus Cederstrom of Salon asks those tough questions, rather than taking the easy road:

So I ask, what if Tim Tebow were Muslim? How would our society react if during every interview, Tebow said “Insha’Allah” or “Allāhu Akbar” rather than thank his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?

… (A)s as Tebowmania makes its way into politics, sports, religion and the everyday life of the mainstream United States, it is important to think about how we approach religion in this country. How we approach religious freedom in this country. Do we accept freedom of religion, any religion? Or do we accept freedom of Christianity?

To use Ramsey’s own argument, should a Muslim athlete refrain from public displays on the field because “his beliefs make others uncomfortable?”

Given their historical inclinations, I think I know how Ramsey and
The Enquirer's editorial board would come down on that issue.

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