by Matt Sutton
While thumping Team Harvey in Fantasy Football last week, I began thinking about the relationships among celebrity, sports, fitness, and faith. My curiosity peaked when I came across reports of three very different athletes.
First, one of the blog’s favorite sports stars, Broncos bench-warming-quarterback Tim Tebow, is now more famous than ever, boasting record-breaking NFL jersey sales. He has recently joined social media. He has a new twitter account, a new Facebook page (which I cannot access because I don’t believe in Facebook) and a website. The website is fascinating, with its repetition of GB2, which stands for “God Bless and Go Broncos!” The website represents the perfect storm of God, celebrity, and the marketing of Nike and Jockey products. Amen.
Next was the story of Ron Artest. He is the NBA player who a few years ago climbed into the stands in the middle of a game in Detroit, started a brawl, and punched out a fan. Now he is a world champion with the Los Angeles Lakers (GB the Lakers!). When he was interviewed at the end of last year’s divinely ordained championship victory over the Celtics, he famously thanked his psychiatrist (who is actually a psychologist, but, as Artest explained, “psychiatrist” was easier to say in the moment).
He too has been making news. As the LA Times recently explained, “The Lakers star lends his fame to a push for funding for mental health programs in schools, using his own story to tell middle schoolers in Montebello it's all right to ask for and receive help.” Appearing before school children, “Artest talked about being in therapy from the time his parents separated when he was 13 years old. He talked about being counseled for anger issues, marriage issues, parenting issues. ‘I'm like, how can a kid in East L.A … get the same help that I got without paying so much?’ he said. Artest acknowledged the stress of being a father at age 16. He talked about growing up in a family with a history of mental illness. He urged the youngsters to seek out school counselors.”
While Artest, unlike Tebow, is never and will never be touted as a role model, I wonder who is doing more for kids? The guy making Focus on the Family commercials for the Superbowl or the screw-up who talks to kids honestly about being a screw-up?
Then a few days later I learned about B. K. S. Iyengar, a one-man yoga phenomenon who has become a hero to one of my history department colleagues. Yesterday I invoked the evangelical rhetoric of my youth in an effort to throw this colleague off of his racquetball game by asking him if he was using Iyengar to fill his “God shaped hole.” The phrase “God shaped hole” was popularized in the 1990s by the Christian band Plumb. However, my colleague did not know the phrase. He interpreted it as the product of too much abstinence-only education. From there the conversation degenerated into a parsing of the theological and Freudian meanings of having a God-shaped hole. Unfortunately he still kicked my hole on the court.
I am not sure what all of this says about our culture and the different idols we have. But this I do know: God loves the Lakers, hates the current Broncos regime, and is probably pretty impressed by Iyengar. Me too.