Thursday, December 3, 2009

Comment on Christian Privilege Post

I was struck by your post about the notion that Tebow's eye black messaging is tolerated only because of "Christian privilege," or that because Tebow is a Christian in a predominantly Christian society, his outward expression of faith is tolerated, while other expressions of faith would not be. Is there anything else in our popular culture than has had such an impact this year, and in a positive way, than that weekly message-inscribed eye black? Everyone is talking about it, and you have a blog named after it.

I think that if an athlete of a non-Christian faith declared his or her faith openly, in a positive way, likely it would be acceptable, as you say. However, I do think that more political messages about abortion, gay marriage, Guantanamo Bay detainee interrogation, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or other such issues would be polarizing, and if an atheist athlete wore some message about there being no higher power at all, many SEC fans would be appalled. So there may be a fine line, despite the concept of free speech.

As a Jew, I have no problem with Tebow putting Biblical quotes on his eye black. Nor do I have a problem with him thanking his "Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" when he wins the Heisman or anything else he says regarding his religion. (I wasn't offended by Danny Wuerffel's open expressions of his Christian faith either.) His faith is an integral part of his personality, and he expresses himself in a genuine, but never arrogant or divisive, way.

Tebow talks about his faith in a way that does not seem derogatory toward others who do not share that faith. I have never heard Tebow say anything denigrating other religious groups. He does not seem to be a one-dimensional person at all, as some of his ill-informed detractors complain.

I know other Jewish Gator fans who feel the same way. Tim Tebow seems very mature in public or before the media - he knows how to express himself without offending other people who don't share his beliefs. Not every high-profile athlete knows how to do this, but Tim Tebow does.
However, I have Christian friends, naturally all who attended SEC schools other than UF, who seem to think his religious expression is "over the top," and that he must be "phony," and that this religious expression "irritates them," and makes them dislike Tebow as a person and denigrate his abilities as a player (usually put in terms like "he'll never make it in the NFL").

Their reaction surprises me as a Jew. He is advertising their religion, after all. Some people may be uncomfortable with religiosity or open expressions of faith in general. Others obviously just do not like the Gators, and use Tebow's eye black messages as a decoy. They'd rather bash his faith than admit he pushed their team around the football field.

There have been other high-profile sports celebrities who have expressed Christianity very openly (Kurt Warner in the earlier Super Bowls, LSU's Jacob Hester), and some who have made strong stands for Judaism (Sandy Koufax not pitching the first game of the World Series as it fell on Yom Kippur) and Islam (Hakeem Olajuwon fasting during Ramadan). They were not criticized, but admired.

I don't think people of other faiths are offended by Tebow's eye black messages. I do think that some people of NO religious faith are probably uncomfortable with Tebow's messages and his religious expression. Such people are uncomfortable with religion altogether. I hope that you are correct in your assertion that Christian fans would be accepting of a non-Christian athlete expressing his or her faith openly, if that expression were as genuine, sweet and kind-hearted as Tebow's expression always comes across. I don't see Tim Tebow as a guy who would make ugly, derogatory comments about other groups, and I don't see him supporting those who would make such comments.

Susan Bernstein
University of Florida, Class of 1990

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