American Culture

No, People, Jeremy Lin is Not "Just Like Tebow"

It had to happen. I’ve been expecting it. Today I read a column that said Jeremy Lin is “just like Tim Tebow.”

Sigh. No, he’s not.

Yes, he’s six foot three and young.

Yes, he’s a devout Christian. But he’s quiet about it. He mentions his faith in interviews, but almost as an aside and usually to deflect praise from himself. He closes his eyes and prays before the tip off, but he doesn’t seek out cameras and kneel dramatically in front of them. In other words, for Jeremy, the Christian thing appears to be part of who he is, not a marketing strategy. (To be fair, Tebow’s parents are evangelists, so to some extent Christianity is the family business. It puts bread on the table.)

Also, he’s smart, or at least smartish—he went to Harvard. And even more important, he’s earned his position on the Knicks by being good at what he does, not been given his starting role because a large and vocal segment of the population wishes he were good.

I get that people seem to need religion. (My theory on that is that we are the only animals that don’t live in the moment but are cognizant that there is an uncertain and potentially scary future. That ability is so terrifying that we have to have a mechanism to deal with it. And that mechanism is to conjure up an all-knowing, kindly being that will intercede on our behalf when things go bad, as they certainly will. God or spirituality is what financial analysts call a plug, something you put into an equation when you know the answer you want but not the correct inputs.)

I also get that Christians seem to need to talk about it. I am not sure to what extent this is conversational habit or how much is a lack of confidence on their part: “Here’s what I believe in. Tell me you believe in it, too. Please tell me you do.” But one way or the other, they do.

I was raised in Waycross, Georgia. Despite what you see about southerners on cable TV, decent folk in Waycross don’t talk about personal stuff with strangers. It’s none of your business if I am straight or gay, Republican or Democrat, Christian or Jew. I’d be very happy if everyone else followed the same rules. But they don’t.

So every time someone sticks a microphone in Kurt Warner’s face, we get to hear about his lord and savior, etc, etc. I don’t like it, but to be honest, I am the one on the couch too lazy to change the channel. And I am not sure what I would rather hear Warner talk about. I don’t care much about his views on politics or anything else. I already know the story of how he bagged groceries in Iowa after college. If he were to offer a technical explanation of what he just did on the field, I am not sure I know enough about football to follow his explanation. So I am watching, he is talking, and we have to fill up the time with something. It might as well be his religious beliefs. We’re talking Kurt Warner, not Carl Sagan here.

But the point is I am watching Kurt Warner or Jeremy Lin because they are fabulous athletes who just accomplished something spectacular. I want to share the moment and the price I pay for that is hearing a commercial about Jesus. I don’t like it, but that’s the way the whole commercial thing works. The thing with Tebow is that he hasn’t accomplished anything, and we still have to listen to his infomercial.

So, don’t compare Jeremy Lin to Tim Tebow. Seriously, you’re insulting the guy.

8 replies »

  1. Tim Tebow’s faith is a marketing strategy? Come on. Keep your cynicism to yourself. Tebow-hate is old news.

    He seeks out cameras? Talk about what you know and not what you think.

  2. Bean

    You’re probably right. How in the world could I think that writing messages under your eyes and kneeling by yourself in front of 80,000 people and 36 cameras were intended to get attention? But if that’s Tim’s idea of a quiet and private moment, I hope he never has to go potty during the game.

  3. I find it hard to believe that your understanding of evangelical belief is so poor. Evangelicals believe that they have a duty to evangelize: to spread the gospel. So of course any evangelical given a spotlight is obliged to use it in that way.

    Most other religions, and many other parts of Christianity, do not include such an obligation, so saying “well, Jews and Catholics aren’t all up in my face like that” is a statement of the blindingly obvious but doesn’t shine any light on the behaviour of an evangelical.

    I don’t share Tebow’s beliefs, and all I know about him is what I read on blogs like this, but if this is what he is doing then the simplest explanation is that he is being obedient to his faith.

  4. Nick, that is a very fair statement, and one I have dealt with in other posts on the topic. While it annoys the heck out of me, I realize that Evangelicals and Muslims feel it is their duty. However, there is a fine line between marketing your faith and marketing yourself, and I think Tebow walks it pretty closely. Having said that, I should have put one other way Lin and Tebow are alike in the post. By all accounts they are wonderful, nice, very hard working young men who deserve to do well. My point was simply that at this point in their careers, Lin’s is earned while Tebow’s is not, and to compare the two diminishes Lin.

  5. I find Tebow’s religiosity extremely annoying and struggle not to be offended and not to write it off as some kind of egocentricity, monetarily motivated or not. I am willing to believe he is sincere — he isn’t helping. But, among many other things, Tebow is a 24 year old kid, an age group with which I am intimately familiar. Tebow has far more managers, advisors and groupies than the ones with which I am familiar but he is still a 24 year old kid and he was a good story in the NFL this past year. But, if he leads Denver to the same record in the first half of next year as he did in the second half of last year, he may still be kneeling in from of 80,000 people but I will bet the number of cameras will drop significantly. Similarly, we’ll see if Lin can keep the cameras on him after the NBA has had a bit of time to notice him on the radar. They are both good stories the duration of which still unknown; Lin is a far less annoying principle.

  6. Nick Barnes:

    I don’t share Tebow’s beliefs, and all I know about him is what I read on blogs like this, but if this is what he is doing then the simplest explanation is that he is being obedient to his faith.

    He’s not the only evangelical in sports, or in the NFL. He’s at least 10x as annoying as Kurt Warner (also an evangelical) was while he was playing, or now in his role as commentator. Kurt acknowledges his faith. Warner would lead prayer circles for both teams after games, but it wasn’t a play for the cameras. It was between him and other players of faith. Typically you might get a passing shot as the camera pans out to a wide stadium view at the end of a broadcast … if at all.

    Tebow rubs your face in it. He strikes what is meant to be a heroic pose during his public prayer, it’s an attention seeking gesture.

    He’s drawn criticism from other christian athletes, not just us atheist non-athlete types.

    Otherwise: I think Lin’s got more staying power than Tebow. As teams studied Tebow, they figured out how to stuff the college option crap and pressure him while passing, and he more or less fell apart. Teams are studying Lin, and his last game against Dallas showed that he can adapt to the schemes thrown at him by a very good team. He may end up just being an average starting point guard in the league. Tebow’s not good enough to be an average quarterback in the NFL …