What Tim Tebow could learn from AA

Let me start with a disclaimer.  I don’t pretend to be any kind of football fan.  I find the rules baffling and the sport itself too reliant on brute strength to be particularly interesting.  I have no basis for evaluating whether Tim Tebow is any good at his job or not, though I suspect he has to be pretty good to have gotten as far as he has.  Whenever I watch football games, I spend most of my time trying to spot which players are the best looking.

Thus, even though I live in New England, I didn’t really care who won this past weekend’s match-up between the Patriots and the Broncos.  Using the Saunders Protocol, I was hoping for a win by the former because if I’d rather look at Tom Brady over the next few weeks.  (Not that Tim Tebow is hard on the eyes.)  But I cared much less about who won the football game than who won Golden Globes last night, and I didn’t even care that much about that because they’re just the Golden Globes.  (Memo to Angelina Jolie: please eat a sandwich, followed by another three.  You’ll feel better.)

Anyhow, as a dedicated football non-fan, I would probably not have known any more about Tebow than about almost any of the other NFL quarterbacks (about whom I know nothing) were it not for his ostentatious displays of religiosity.  Assuming you live in this country and have any access to mass media (if not, how are you reading this blog?), you probably know about Tim Tebow.  Dude is (or was) everywhere, and “tebowing” is this year’s flash mob.

Thanking God for victory in such frivolous endeavors as sporting events (or in award acceptance speeches, for that matter) is flagrantly risible.  God’s eye may be on the sparrow, but I can’t imagine it’s spending much time focused on ESPN.  Tebow’s neologism-inspiring antics aren’t just theologically unsound, they’re also bad for his co-religionists.

First of all, they’re pretty obviously in violation of the unambiguous words of Jesus himself.  The Gospels are full of exhortations against showy displays of righteousness for their own sake.  I am in no position to question Tebow’s personal spiritual devotion, and I will give him the benefit of the doubt that his behaviors are sincerely motivated.  But they run afoul of the words attributed to the very God they are presumably meant for.

More than that, they make the beliefs that motivate them look ridiculous.  And this is where the example of another spirituality-based lifestyle modification program may be illustrative.  I’m talking, of course, about Alcoholics Anonymous.

I suspect most people are familiar with the 12 Steps of AA.  They may not know what each of them are, but they know there are twelve of them as part of the program.  What non-AA types may not be familiar with are the 12 Traditions.  The Traditions deal less with personal recovery from addiction and more with how groups should be run and how members should behave qua participants in the program.  As one might expect, a premium is placed on anonymity.  The Tradition relevant to the discussion at hand is Tradition 11:

Eleven—Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.

Popular culture is rife with recovering addicts to various different substances, and many of them make no secret of their participation in 12-step programs like AA.  However, in keeping with the 11th Tradition, most are somewhat circumspect about it, and refer to being “in recovery” or belonging to support groups.  You’re not supposed to come right out and say “I’m a member of Alcoholics Anonymous,” which was why it caused a bit of a stir when Roger Ebert did just that.

The reasoning behind this proscription is straightforward.  If someone who is publicly a member of AA falls spectacularly off the wagon, it reflects poorly on AA as a whole.  It may dissuade someone who might genuinely benefit from it from giving it a try.  Further, since AA members are often loath to criticize the recovery efforts of other members and are protective of their own anonymity to boot, there’s no way for the program to stick up for itself if there is some infamous failure.

Which brings us back to Tebow and his team’s rather resounding loss at the hands of the Pats.  For the 43% of people who apparently think God was helping Tebow win (and I sincerely hope that was just a lousy poll), what does it mean when he gets his ass handed to him?  Divine wrath?  The mysterious ways of the Holy Spirit?  Does it shake the faith a bit?

If Tebow wants to help his faith, the best thing he can do is be a decent person and a good sportsman (which, from what I gather, he is).  He can do good works and lead an exemplary, moral, generous life.  People who admire him can, if they’re interested, learn about his faith by inquiring about what motivates him to live the way he does, rather than attributing his wins or losses to divine intervention.  Or, in the words of the 11th Tradition, he can win people through attraction rather than promotion.

[Update:  Self-appointed gadfly Truth Detector notes in the comments that Tebow prays ostentatiously after both wins and losses.  It is admirable that he is consistent in this manner, I suppose.  That does not make his displays any less ostentatious.]

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. The movie “Angels in the Outfield” explained that divine intervention can get you to the playoffs, but it’s hands off after that.

    I imagine that football would be no different than baseball (assuming all sorts of things, of course).

    • Except for the rampant steroid abuse among baseball angels. I mean, seriously. Look at the wing muscles on THAT one!

    • You mean the divisional round and conference championship, Jaybird. The wild card game was still firmly in the hands of the Almighty.

  2. “Whenever I watch football games, I spend most of my time trying to spot which players are the best looking.”

    I would think this would be difficult to do with the pads and helmets and everything.

      • Any game that involves running up and down a field is likely to feature nicely developed legs and butts. Which may be my favorite parts. Of course these are more regularly on view with soccer and rugby players. And without the shiny stretch pants! American Footballers are also less likely to remove their shirts, perhaps because of all the armor underneath, which is too bad.

        • “Any game that involves running up and down a field is likely to feature nicely developed legs and butts. ”

          You’d think that. And then you’d notice the linesmen.

          • I confess, I find pretty much all american football builds pretty enrapturing. If we could only introduce to the sport the penchant of soccer players for ripping their clothes off at the slightest provokation I might actually start watching football.

  3. Too bad this article is full of lies. Tebow thanks God after games win or lose. He does not merely do it when he wins.

    You then try to use Mathew 6.5 with a broad stroke. This is out of context completely.

    Get your facts straight. I’m tired of people making up lies to trash him.

    • Hmmm. Well, I suppose it’s good that he’s consistent. It doesn’t make his displays any less ostentatious, though, does it? Which is, of course, the point of Matthew 6:5. If you would like to offer your own exegesis, by all means enlighten me what it’s really about.

      It is, however, best that you do so nicely. If you think I am mistaken, I would gladly be corrected by the strength of your argument. If you call me a liar again, I will simply delete everything else you have to say thenceforth.

      • If you can’t fact check before you write an article, you have serious issues… not I.

        Mathew 6.5 is for hypocrites who pray in public for the appearance of being holy. It is not meant towards those who do it as a selfless act.

        There are no less than a dozen Bible verses telling those to spread the word of God. Here’s a few:

        Mathew 28.19
        “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”

        Mathew 5: 16
        “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

        2 Timothy 4:2
        “Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.”

        Now that you have been shown facts… now that you have admitted you were not aware he thanked God win or lose… are you going to correct your inaccurate article?

        • TD, you are begging the question. You take as a given that Tebow is praying publicly as a selfless act and that he is not doing so for the appearance of being holy. I decline to make a similar assumption.

          I will amend the article slightly to note his win-or-lose approach to prayer. However, just because something is consistent doesn’t make it any less silly.

          And I still find myself disliking your tone, darn it all.

          • Because actions speak louder than words. He gave his entire $2.5MM signing bonus to various charities. He gives a large portion of his salary to various charities. He runs his own charity. He gives a large portion of his time to working with unfortunate children. His good and selfless works go on and on.

            You chose to assume he is a hypocrite out of your own biases, even though there is little to prop up your hypothesis. Furthermore, your biases come out when you call his prayers “silly.”

            You dislike my tone because you are embarrassed you didn’t first fact check before writing your article. I would be too.

          • Nope. I call his praying silly because it is self-aggrandizing.

            I don’t actually think Tebow is a hypocrite. I think (as you’ll see if you scroll back up) that his belief is sincere. That doesn’t make his behavior any less self-aggrandizing or silly. It is juvenile, attention-seeking behavior even if the person doing it is otherwise admirable.

            And I dislike your tone because it makes you seem like kind of a prick.

          • I’m with Dr. Saunders on all of the above. George, below, was able to make the same argument you do, without coming across like an a-hole.

            The John 3:16 eyeblacks he wore at UF, and which he would still wear in the NFL if permitted to do so, suggest to me that indeed there are elements of tribalistic chest-thumping in Mr. Tebow’s evangelistic persona. With that said, it seems to me that he has been instructed to dial it back a notch, and has done so, all of which is appropriate. And at the end of the day, he is a professional football players and what matters the most is the quality of his play. While I was skeptical about that, I’m beginning to come around to thinking he’s got something interesting and unique to bring to the table in that regard. We’ll find out in the 2012 season whether that something is more than a novelty.

          • Oooh, he doesn’t like your tone. Better watch out. Because, as we all know, absolutely nothing that you say means anything at all if someone doesn’t like your tone.

            “You take as a given that Tebow is praying publicly as a selfless act…”

            And you, Doctor, are doing exactly the same thing on the flip side of the coin.

          • Come to think of it, DD, I’m not particularly liking yours, either. And, while you’re certainly a regular contributor to the community at large hereabouts, I’m really not under any obligation to tolerate comments I find consistently nastier than necessary. Whether you care enough to have your comments remain visible is really up to you, isn’t it?

            And yes, I’m saying that Tebow’s flamboyant displays of religious devotion are exactly that — flamboyant. They certainly look like they’re designed for public consumption to me, and I’m not especially motivated to construct a narrative that redounds to Tebow’s humility.

          • I certainly can’t stop you deleting comments you don’t like. If that’s the kind of person you want to be, then go right ahead and be that person.

          • You’re perfectly capable to writing points that present a dissenting opinion without resorting to being snide. So long as that continues to be the case, there won’t be any problem. If I have to squeegee the sarcasm off my screen to see your point, that’s when the problem begins.

            I like having you here, man, but I’d advise against casting in your lot with someone who decided to start his comment thread by calling me a liar.

          • The author of this news post doesn’t want to be called a liar, but he has no problem calling people he disagrees with “pricks.” It’s a bit of bully behavior to call names and then tell others they can’t do the same.

            To call someone a liar without backing up that assertion is truly terrible. But the guy who did presented facts the author couldn’t refute (Tebow praises God win or lose). The author also claimed he would edit his article to fix his news post, yet he still has yet to do so.

          • DensityDuck, you are not allowed to have an opinion that differs from the author. His opinion trumps the truth and you with it. Don’t you dare confronting him with any facts! Behave yourself now and get back in line.

          • I would direct your attention to the update appended to the post, Wow, which I put there as soon as I said I would.

            Also, this isn’t a news post. It’s an informal opinion piece on a blog, in which I am free to expound on whatever topic I choose. Whether Tebow prays after victories, losses or both is a side point. The main issue at hand is the attention-seeking manner in which he prays at all.

          • I have to say I can’t understand what other than a lack of charity can compel us to conclude that Tebow prays at those times out of an interest in promoting his faithiness and not out of an actual personal spiritual desire to pray at those moments. It’s actually a different argument to say that it’s just ostentatious whatever his reasons are so he shouldn’t do it (and I don’t know what considerations would power that argument either, for that matter).

          • It doesn’t bother me in the slightest bit that Tebow prays. That he prays in such an eye-catching manner is what gives me pause. If he were to quietly bow his head from time to time, nobody would notice and it would be between him and his God. Instead, everyone gets to witness his piety.

          • Again, I don’t see where we can say that isn’t genuine. Bowing his head just might not do it for him.

            Strange as it sounds, to me it actually looks like the whole thing is actually about the football as much as anything else.

          • Bowing his head just might not do it for him.

            But biblically, it’s not about him. It’s about whether it does it for God. God being here, there, and everywhere (so they say), no special actions are necessary to effectively pray. And we’re given commands to be circumspect in our acts of prayer (go past Matthew 6:5 to 6:6 and we find Jesus telling us to go pray behind closed doors.

            There’s nothing to prevent Tebow from doing his post-game prayers behind closed doors. In the locker room, or a quick duck into a broom closet. That he does it so publicly indicates he, at best, isn’t thinking about how ostentatious he appears (making himself a stumbling block for others, Romans 13:14). At worst it means he wants people to see, to notice what he’s doing. Even if he’s sincere and it’s not that he wants people to admire him, but is trying to send a message, it’s witnessing through ostentatious prayer, which is bad form, and almost certainly is only preaching to the choir.

          • Not having anything on the line personally as far as what the Bible tells him or whom it should be about, I still don’t know on what basis I should take offense. Some Christians seem to say he’s not on good ground doctrinally; others say it’s up to him or applaud it. I just have no dog in an inter-denominational sectarian doctrinal dispute, and that was not the argument of Dr. Saunders either.

            If someone were making that argument about Tebow, I would likely have little to say, though I’d probably wonder to myself why he would care about someone else’s interpretation of his faith unless it was a leader in his faith community. There is a quite real divide on this question between denominations and sects of Christianity, and from the perspective of an outsider (who started on track to be an insider), it doesn’t look much to me like anyone has the inside track on a objective cross-denominational answer along the lines of a killer Originalist constitutional interpretation or something.

            But even if they did, if he were apostate from the perspective of his faith, that still wouldn’t amount to an argument that he is doing something wrong from a secular, public perspective. Blaspheme away, Tim Tebow. It’s neither here nor there from the perspective of an observing secular public.

        • You say that Matthew 6.5 only applies to hypocrites, but how do you KNOW he’s not a hypocrite? I mean, just look at that smug lying bastard’s face! He’s just got to be completely full of crap! I mean, nobody could possibly believe in God like that!

          • Exactly. Clearly he can’t possibly be serious about all this. He’s a rich NFL player! What’s he got to pray about.

            My atheist’s sixth sense tells me he’s a naive, earnest, restless, competitive, soulful, honestly Jesus-loving kid who actually rolls this way. No one in sports seems to care that people always talk about God, but Tebow really does seem to get his teammates to raise their game (it’s certainly not Tebow’s game that got them the 8 out of 9 wins they got when he took over after they got none the first four games). There’s no way you can say that his overall schtick has nothing to do with that; it’s just too present. But if it wasn’t who he really is, I can’t see him being able to overcome that and winning over his mates. They’d see through him.

            I think he’s praying at those times because he really needs to. To focus or something. He seems like a really anxious dude to me, and he plays a position that is mostly all brain, when mostly all he has going for him is brawn. Lotta pressure. You’re seeing his coping strategy, is what it looks like to me.

  4. You misunderstand Tebow. Religious phonies are self centered and wish to help their selves by acting rightous. Tebow is being rightous for the goal of helping others and out of love to the Lord. Tebow is a missionary who happens to play football. Understand that and you will understand him better. I’ve been overseas and have been around many missionaries. They are a different breed. They are out to win people to Jesus. They are not quiet about it. Haven’t you noticed how many times Tebow thanks the Lord for the platform he has been given? He is a missionary. Whether you like that or hate that makes no difference to them. By the way, there are no rules for displays of faiths. But many think there is a right or wrong way. I find the guy admirable as he seems to be sincere and for real.

    • If he’s a missionary, he seems to be doing a middling job at best. At least 43% of people asked appear to be getting the wrong message.

  5. One of the hard things for me to tease out about Tebow is how much of his fame due to religion is media-fostered hype, and how much is calculated PR. It’s almost impossible to tell in today’s ESPN driven world of sports.

    I find that how I answer my question above dictates whether I like or dislike Tebow.

    • He’s a white guy who’s famous and openly religious. He’s the one the media has been waiting for.

      As has often been pointed out, it’s not like Tebow is the first man in the NFL who overtly displays his faith. He’s just the first one who’s of a color we’re allowed to mock.

      • Not many do it quite like him. It’s really front-and-center. (And see above: I don’t think that means it’s false at all.)

        It’s not a color thing. Man is that bogus. He’s a singular dude.

        • It also wasn’t nearly as much of a thing before he came in and started getting win after win after his team had started 0-4 behind the dude in front of him.

          • You beat me to it, James.

            Orton is undefeated in Denver as Kansas City’s starting quarterback. Just sayin’.

      • … I’m certain if someone was leading a complete gospel choir after each touchdown, there would be more than mockery going on…

  6. I don’t know how you’d go about determining what’s ostentatiousness and what’s just a different religious culture. Tebow clearly comes out of a tradition where one wears one’s beliefs on one’s sleeve — I wince when I hear him thank his Lord and Savior before he starts answering questions at a press conference, but I don’t have a window into his heart to know whether he’s doing it to show off or if it’s a sincere reflection of his understanding of his faith, an act of pride or a deliberately public reminder of the need for humility. I’m pretty sure the Bible also says something like “judge not, lest ye be judged.”

    • A few thoughts in reply:

      1) It seems to me that behaviors that cannot be easily distinguished from prideful self-promotion are probably best avoided, at least as religious devotions.

      2) It may well be that Tebow’s native religious culture promotes similar ostentation. Which doesn’t mean it’s not ostentatious. Just that he’s got lots of company.

      3) As I’ve said before, I don’t really think Tebow is a hypocrite. I think he holds his beliefs sincerely, and will happily give him kudos for his good works. I think he’s probably got a good heart. But I still find his manner of public prayer conspicuously designed for public consumption, and (no matter how much special pleading other commenters engage in) directly in conflict with the explicit instructions of Jesus himself.

      • Dr. Saunders, these are also Jesus’ explicit instructions, Matthew 5:

        11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
        13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
        14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

        This fits Tebow to a “T.” He’s on firm ground, as he sees his religion. George’s comment about Tebow’s missionary view of Christianity also fits well, Matthew 28, The Great Commission:

        16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

        • Oh, I have no doubt that Tebow thinks the ground he’s on is very firm indeed. I also suspect that my opinion is probably the very last thing on the face of the earth that he might ever care about.

          As a side note, I find it a source of constant bemusement that religious Christians could consider themselves the objects of persecution when they are in the overwhelming majority in the world’s wealthiest, most powerful nation, and when they hold an de facto veto over nominees in at least one of the country’s political parties. That a super-wealthy athlete like Tebow might consider himself persecuted strains credulity. Insofar as he is the subject of mockery, it is not for his beliefs, but for the attention-seeking manner in which he displays them.

          • And doctors have lots of money and education, so they shouldn’t complain that sometimes they get sued for malpractice.

          • DD,
            having known doctors rightfully sued for malpractice, you’ll find that they hang their heads, and don’t bitch — too much. It’s rather undignified to be called out on the carpet for being petulant — moreso if it caused harm to a patient.

          • You should hate them. They’re an ostentatious display of religious activity, a prideful self-promotion of the church organization, a massive intrusion into the day of thousands of secular persons who don’t want to have any jot or tittle of religion in their daily existence. Hell, at least with Tim Tebow we can turn the TV off and not see him anymore.

          • Maybe. From my perspective, after however many centuries they’re part of the background noise of Western culture. Those who are greatly exercised by them are welcome to mount a campaign against them, I suppose.

  7. While you’re bringing up the AA, do you take as many potshots at all the sports “heroes” who do drugs and drink and cheat on their wives? Or are you one of those non-sporting guys who took up sports lately because a geniunely likeable guy (Tebow) makes YOU feel a bit fake?

    When an athlete’s second career is drug abuse and drunk driving, are you as diligent about putting it to write? You use the word “silly” with regard to Tebow’s religious displays. If that’s “silly” I’ll take it. Because it’s a whole lot better to be silly than deadly.

    • I am no more or less athletic because of Tim Tebow than I ever was.

      And no, I don’t write about the unpleasant behaviors of other professional athletes, because that is not a subject of interest to me. Tebow’s behavior caught my eye in a way that prompted me to comment, and theirs has not.

  8. I’m of several minds about the whole Tebow thing (disclosure: I probably watch fewer football games than Mr. Saunders).

    I agree mostly that it is probably poor form to wear one’s religion on one’s sleeve and that doing so–if we concede that that’s what Tebow is doing–seems a contravention of Mathew 6:5. In other words, I almost completely agree with the OP.

    I have some qualifications, though:

    First, there might be other portions of the Bible that suggest one ought to at least “witness” to others, and how one does that is open to question. I confess I’m not a Biblical scholar: I haven’t even read the entire Bible, although I’ve read big chunks of it. Perhaps Tebow, or the dictates of his version of Christianity, sees religious displays as a sort of witness. (If true, that doesn’t make it any less ostentatious and doesn’t negate Mathew 6:5.)

    Second, to the degree that I am familiar with the kind of faith Tebow espouses–for a while in my teenage years I considered myself an evangelical–I imagine that his faith stipulates that everyone is to some degree a hypocrite. If my assessment of what his faith requires is correct, and if Tebow acknowledges that aspect of his faith, then perhaps he has to wrestle with the competing claims of “witnessing” and “checking one’s pride.” In slightly different words, I think whether Tebow is a hypocrite or not is besides the point because his belief system probably already takes into account what it sees as the fact of his hypocrisy. (I’m going out on a limb here: not only do I not watch much football, I don’t even know much about Tebow save for what I read on my blogs…and I’m a Denver native.)

    Third, I think it’s healthy for everyone, theists, atheists, and everyone in between, to acknowledge that we have what we have through some degree of luck (or “providence,” if that term suits you) and to remember that in our reversals, our “losses,” we still have much to be grateful for. Nothing about what I just said requires that such acknowledgements or remembrances need be ostentatious. But perhaps Tebow’s ostentatious (from what I hear) displays are in part a healthy acknowledgement that he is not all.

  9. It is nice to see Tebow setting an example, but it was even better to see the Patriots rip into Denver over and over on Saturday.

    Beliefs are one thing, but the Patriots showed that teamwork, practice, and experience will always carry the day in the long run. THAT should be the REAL take-home lesson.

      • Oh, maybe the Pats filmed Tebow praying pre-game, read his lips to figure out what he was praying for, and adjusted their game plan to foil that!

  10. Being both a recovering alcoholic and a lover of Jesus Christ I can see both sides….what if Tim Tebow’s motives dont have anything to do with other people though? What if it is all about his love for the Lord and a willingness to express it at all costs? The greatest King in the Bible was David, a man after God’s own heart and he took advantage of every moment to let the Lord know how much He loved him. My guess is Tim Tebow honors God the same when people are looking and when they are not and that is a beautiful, rare thing. When you are in love dont you want to shout it from the roof tops? Maybe his relationship with Jesus runs just that deep. I know mine does.

    • This is gonna sound sarcastic, and maybe it is (I’m never sure anymore). You’re saying that when Tebow scores, he does a Tebow (honors God). And when he cooks an especially awesome meal for himself in his house after the game he does a Tebow (honors God)?

      In more ways than one, call me a skeptic.

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