Denver Broncos quarterback and polarizing Evangelical icon Tim Tebow is joining the New York Jets. Those would be my New York Jets. I confess to being baffled. And intrigued by the cultural implications of it all.
I am not baffled because there is anything unusual about a Conservative Christian playing football in New York or anywhere else for that matter. A modern professional football team is, after all, a collection of really ripped, really talented Evangelical players and really ripped, really talented non-Evangelical players.
What’s baffling (aside from the fact that the Jets already have a perfectly good, if somewhat uneven, quarterback in Mark Sanchez) is the incongruity of the fit between the player and the city. This particular Evangelical Christian athlete brings with him a well-defined, media-ready theological platform to a city full of people who have shown themselves to be apathetic, if not patently hostile, to such platforms.
Then again, if I were with the Christian Right I would see this as a heaven-sent opportunity. I have noted on a few occasions in this column that swashbuckling activists in this movement have targeted Manhattan as the ultimate symbolic scalp. If they could de-secularize Gotham, what Goliath couldn’t they slay?
Initiatives of this sort were undertaken in an effort to contrive a controversy about religious speakers at the tenth anniversary of 9/11. A pitched battle to “convert” public schools into sacred worship spaces on weekends suffered significant defeats and is now under final consideration.
But bringing Tebow to Broadway could feasibly accomplish what millions of dollars, and squadrons of public-interest law firms and operatives could not: the insertion into the New York market of a highly visible spokesperson and not at all unlikable role model for Conservative Christian worldview.
One may disagree–strenuously–with Tebow’s religious views. But the guy has no shortage of moral upside or admirable character traits. Put differently, he is a heck of a lot more sympatico as a human being than culture warriors complaining about “eastern seaboard elites” as they liken the city to Sodom. Secularists, you have been placed on notice. Do not underestimate this man’s appeal.
New York–and by New York I really mean Manhattan and a couple of the boroughs and Long Island (so sorry Upstate New York, you’re not New York!)–has not in my lifetime had anything approaching such a figure. No one who I can think of has ever commanded attention in the City as a representative of the type of Evangelical outlook that is so widespread in other parts of the country.
This is where, potentially, the recent trade could assume a broader cultural significance. For should the controversial athlete go-a-Tebowing on Christopher Street, or should a pro-choice group take out an ad in the New York Times calling into question his views on abortion, then a whole new game will break out on what is the home field of American secularism.