He was ranked as one of the top high school quarterbacks in the country. He was heavily recruited and went on to attend the University of Florida, where he led the team to a National Championship. He went on to win the Heisman trophy, and was a high draft pick in the NFL. He is most well known for his faith.
Nope. Danny Wuerffel.
Every time that Tebow took a knee on national television, or said his post-game thank you’s we heard about his faith. But he is hardly the first high-profile player to be of strong religious conviction. Is it really such a big deal if he expressed his faith?
Wuerffel grew up the son of an Air Force Chaplain, and his faith has never been far from his life. While spending time in New Orleans as a Saint (any irony there?), he began working with Desire Street Ministries. They work in impoverished neighborhoods trying to make them better places to live and work. In a recent interview with CNN, he talks of driving to the Superdome. If he turned right, he would go to practice, but if he turned left, he would go to Desire Street. After stints with a few teams and a run-in with Hurricane Katrina, he turned left. His own personal Road to Damascus.
Reggie White was one of the most feared defensive ends to ever play football. A University of Tennessee All-American who is in both the College Football and Pro Football Hall of Fame, he played for the Eagles and Panthers, but is best known for his many years of mayhem in Green Bay. It was there that he won two Super Bowls and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. His teammates nicknamed him the “Minister of Defense”, which not only reflected his skills as a pass-rusher and team leader, but also his standing as an ordained minister.
A 3-time Super Bowl winner, Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton is also the son of a Pentecostal minister. He attended the first-ever Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp. In a recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal he wrote of prayers before games that ended, “Amen. Now let’s go kill those (expletive deleted)’s!”
And it’s not just football.
Mike Piazza of the Mets and Dodgers has never hidden his Catholicism. He travelled to Rome, where he visited the Vatican and met Pope John Paul II.
As a long-time fan of Caddyshack, we fondly remember the scene of the Bishop playing the round of his life. When Webb Simpson won the Greater Greensboro Open last year, he threw the trophy over his head and gave a shout-out to his maker. Webb went to Wake Forest on an Arnold Palmer scholarship. It was there that he majored in religion, with a minor, we can only assume, in golf.
Mohammad Ali was the World Heavyweight Champion in 1967 when he refused to go to Vietnam. He was a conscientious objector on religious grounds. His belief in Islam told him not to go. He was publicly criticized and his objection and his faith have followed him to this day. But like many of his public pronouncements, he was never shy about it.
In a subtle irony, one of the greatest fights for The Greatest was with George Foreman. Big George was beaten up pretty bad by Jimmy Young in 1977. The man that Ring magazine called one of the greatest punchers of all time was exhausted, and fell ill in the locker room after the fight. It was there that he was said to have had a life altering experience that led him to give over his life to his faith. When he’s not trying to sell you cooking implements, George is an ordained minister.
Dikembe Mutumbo was a fearsome center in the NBA. He practiced his religion while growing up in the Congo, and returned there upon retiring. His continued work with the United Nations and CARE led President George W. Bush to mention him in a 2007 State of the Union address.
Bill Goldberg started off as a gridiron star, but became famous as a professional wrestler. He is one of the few men to have defeated Hollywood Hulk Hogan. Goldberg (“Who’s Next!) never hid his Judaism and is active in several charitable causes.
Tim Tebow may not be the subtlest player when it comes to taking a knee. He is far from the only player to thank someone other than the coach after a big win (Why do players never blame a higher power after a crushing loss?). The jury is still out about whether or not Tebow has any hope of having a career in the NFL. He’s not exactly known for his passing or decision-making in the heat of battle.
At the end of the game, do we really care that he displays his faith? Is his display any more arrogant than a Terrell Owens celebration? Tebow plays football. Who he plays for is up to him.