Tim Tebow is making a lot of sports fans uneasy, some of us angry, others even defiant. The 24-year-old Denver Broncos quarterback figures he has God on his side, and he’s fairly matter-of-fact about it. Whenever the spirit moves him, he references his Lord and Savior in his interviews, which are mainly about football but typically, and predictably, stray off into the mysterious acres of spirituality.
Tebow, with 10 starts on his NFL résumé, has dropped God squarely on the gridiron’s 50-yard line, and a lot of us don’t really know what the devil to do about it. Tebow likely won’t be a Pro Bowler this year, but as a premier preacher, he is so far down the block and around the corner that not even a pack of Harley-ridin’, Bible-thumpin’ Jehovah Witnesses would have a prayer at running him down.
Granted, whether you’re OK with the God thing or not, believer or disbeliever, it’s all a little weird by today’s standards. I think in large part that’s because God just isn’t included in our daily conversation, like the old days. A lot of Baby Boomers remember when their school day began with everyone in the classroom standing up next to their desks to recite the Lord’s Prayer, followed immediately by the Pledge of Allegiance.
As I recall, God got top play over the Stars and Stripes in Mrs. Chagaruley’s first grade class at Bedford Center Elementary, 1959-60. We said our prayer, finished it with an “amen,’’ and then promptly placed right hand over heart to give it up for the good ol’ USA. No one flinched over that last all-American line, “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’’
Did we really say that? Yep. We prayed. We pledged. We wore our polished Buster Browns, toted our “Superman’’ lunchboxes, paid our 3 cents for a carton of milk at lunch, and all the God stuff folded in quite comfortably, barely noticed. I’m pretty sure the high school football team prayed out loud before kickoff, but I could be wrong. God knows, it’s been a long time.
I’m not saying we were all Tim Tebowesque about it, dropping God talk on everyone all the time. If anything, we were robotic, concerned most about reciting the prayer and the pledge in perfect unison than dwelling on our own spirituality or our place in God’s kingdom. You didn’t want to be out of sync with the prayer or the pledge. The aim was to recite it in verbal lockstep with everybody else. The same. That’s the way it was for a lot, if not most, of America. We wanted to be similar, equal, alike.
“You bet, Lord’s Prayer, every day,’’ said a pal of mine, recalling his early years of public school in the Boston suburbs in the ’50s. “And heck, I’m Jewish, and I was the only Jew in the classroom. But I said it along with everyone else: ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.’
“Didn’t give it a second thought, quite honestly, and I was going to Hebrew School at the same time. So if I didn’t care, I doubt anybody else did.’’
For myriad reasons, much of that changed by the late ’60s. As a country, we were growing in number, we became more diverse religiously, far more than Christian or Jew, Old Testament or New Testament. We stopped praying aloud in the public schools and an unpopular war in Vietnam focused more attention on flag burning than pledging.
Amid the political turmoil, which often included humiliating receptions for veterans returning from Vietnam, many Americans began to question what God had to do with nation, liberty, and justice.
Some 40 years later, a lot of us don’t know what to make of Tebow, the Philippine-born son of Christian missionaries. We’ve heard athletes talk about God before, but not to this extent, not so frequently, and surely not so openly. We wonder. Is he honest? Naive? A phony-baloney? Will he drop to a knee in prayer one day and never get up?
Oddly, back when God was, shall we say, trending in America, there was a whole bunch of other stuff we dared not mention in daily conversation. So much of what is OK today was classified as hush-hush back then.
If someone had cancer, we didn’t talk about it, especially if it was a child with cancer. Talk was not viewed as helpful or caring, but as an added burden to a family’s pain or distress. Leave the sick alone.
OK, so maybe the folks next door were getting divorced. None of our business. Don’t be a busybody. Sex? Are you kidding me? We’re praying and pledging here. We’re not talking sex. In our town, it was a really big deal when “Family Living’’ was included as a course component in sophomore biology (circa 1969). We learned about body parts and sexually transmitted diseases. Hot stuff. We were amazed the books didn’t burn in our hands.
The guy two streets over lost his job? No way. No one ever lost a job in 1960s America. Sign on for work with the Edison and hang on for the gold watch.
If your pal’s dad got grabbed on a DUI, it was probably the fifth time the local cops caught the dumb bugger bouncing lane to lane and they finally took his keys, believing they were doing it for him more than anyone else. Nope, we ain’t spreading gossip, not with the cops involved.
Gays, lesbians, Transsexuals? Yeah, right, tons of talk about all of those folks in the ’50s and ’60s.
In 2011 America, all of those subjects are front and center for open discussion, right down to low-dosage Viagra, hemorrhoid relief, and Vagisil medicated wipes. Broken lives. Illnesses. Drunkenness and dalliances. Lost jobs. Houses repossessed. Cars totaled. Office trysts.
Sonny and Cher’s daughter went from Chastity to Chaz, got himself a dance gig a few weeks ago, and heck, by the time he got bounced from “Dancing With The Stars,’’ he had families all around America talking sex change as if it were a $49.95 special at Jiffy Lube.
Here in America, for reasons good and bad, for a country that lauds its alleged openness and purported inclusiveness, we’ll talk about anything, in front of anyone, at any time of day or night. Most of us are good with that. We talk about all of it with the ease and familiarity that we once spoke of God, and we do it without humility, excuse, or need of explanation.
Tim Tebow is not right or wrong to talk about his God, and because we are in America, we should be thankful that he has the protected right to do it, be it on game day or any other day. At the very least, we should be as tolerant and accepting of what he has to say as we seem to be about what everyone else is talking about these days.Kevin Paul Dupont’s “On Second Thought’’ appears on Page 2 of the Sunday Globe Sports section. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.