Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tebow's Eye Black draws more attention

The blogosphere, and Sporting News in particular, comes to Tebow's and his eye black's defense:

It's no great secret that Tim Tebow uses his eye black to spread the word about Christianity. But what Forbes writes in an article about the return of the passage John 3:16 to sporting life seems more like an excuse to bag on the original "Rainbow Man" and point at a few scattered mentions of the passage than a development that should be credited to Tebow.

Forbes writer Monte Burke comes up with four instances of the passage intersecting with sports this year -- Tebow, and signs at the NCAA Tournament, a "prominent PGA Tour event," and Georgia high school football games -- and uses that to proclaim a comeback. That allows him to mention the tragic, sordid story of Rollen Stewart, who went by "Rainbow Man" in his heyday of grassroots gospel-spreading and is now serving life in a California prison after a hostage-taking incident.

This is, uh, related to Tebow. Because they both like John 3:16. Or something.

Dashiell Bennett of Deadspin calls the trend story "flimsy" under a headline that undercuts his own points, and tosses in some howlers about the fanaticism of Florida fans and Tebow in particular.

But comparing the two people should be done by looking at their demonstrated faith. Sporting Blog colleague Dan Shanoff has, in his hyperspecific Tebow coverage, hit on something central to Tebow's faith: It's actually subtle. "Rainbow Man" wore gaudy Afro wigs and gyrated in the stands; Tebow wears Bible passages on his eye black and ends media sessions with "God bless." The chasm between the ostentatious Stewart and the lower-key Tebow reflects the difference in platform, too: Stewart was some guy in the stands, while Tebow is the biggest star on one of the most-scrutinized team in college football, and has been for three years. And it's worth noting that Tebow's predecessor in fresh-faced Christianity at quarterback for Florida did his fair share of sky-pointing and hand-clasping during games; Tebow's religious displays on Saturdays are limited to his eye black, which is the only departure from fiery field general he makes.

That's part of why Florida fans want to honor him by wearing eye black: It's the signature of a star. And it would be even if faith were not part of it. He could be putting area codes on his eye black, like Reggie Bush, or "Mika Vick," like Terrelle Pryor, and he would still be inspiring copycats. "Rainbow Man" inspired a generation to express themselves through signage, too, and not all of it was Christian or Biblical.

It's the medium, not the message, that is notable here.

Photo: Getty Images

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