by Matt Sutton
As Tim Tebow’s popularity continues to rise, Barack Obama should be starting to sweat.
Americans love the Denver Broncos quarterback. The big virgin does two things extremely well—he wins football games and he praises Jesus. What could be more American than that?
And yet there is far more to the Tebow phenomenon than football. His success is occurring at precisely the moment that Americans seem most disillusioned with politics, Congressional leaders, the president, and the direction the nation is heading. Washington has seemingly been unable to fix crises ranging from the economy to the war in Afghanistan.
Tebow, in contrast, knows how to solve problems. Like Jesus on steroids, he prays, pulverizes defenses, and scores touchdowns. And then he takes a knee to thank God for the Almighty’s help, sparking the phenomenon now dubbed Tebowing. He has turned the lowly Broncos into division champs and now playoffs winners with his confidence and his surprising ability to bring the best out in those around him.
Tebow’s surging popularity can only be understood in the context of his explicit evangelical faith linked with his willingness to use his image to promote the family-values agenda of the Religious Right. Whether filming a 2011 Super Bowl commercial on behalf of the conservative organization Focus on the Family or explaining his experience as a home-schooled missionary kid, his affinities for the G.O.P. are clear.
In the past, many athletes have worn their faith on their sleeves. But this has not driven their jerseys to become NFL bestsellers or their books to the top of the Amazon sales list. Tebow has tapped into something deeper, something that reaches far beyond sports.
Tebow has come to symbolize evangelicalism as a whole. A perennial underdog whose unorthodox style convinced many scouts that he could never succeed in the pros, he has patiently endured the scoffs of critics. Unable to conform to the style of modern play-callers, he has found success by forcing the game to adapt to him rather than adapting to the game. Tebow embodies the traditional gridiron fundamentals of another era, much as evangelicals call for the nation to return to the old time religion.
Believers identify with Tim Tebow. They have long seen themselves as cultural outsiders who do not get a fair shake in the media, the academy, or popular culture. The deck, they believe, is always stacked against them. But in the end, they expect to prevail. Just like Tebow.
The Tebow moment is occurring at a time in which the Religious Right has fragmented. Jerry Falwell is dead, Pat Robertson rarely makes news, and James Dobson is quietly enjoying retirement.
The current Republican leadership has little to offer evangelicals. As the primary-season-merry-go-round continues, the faithful can choose from an adulterous former speaker, a blunt Catholic, a slick Mormon, or an unelectable governor from Texas (who has compared himself to Tebow).
And yet Tebow has infused the same conservative Christians who are looking askew at their presidential choices with a new sense of hope. Tebow overcomes all odds. Tebow proves the experts wrong. Tebow restores faith. Tebow wins.
Tebow is the anti-Obama.
The president entered the White House with a lot more promise than Tebow brought with him to the NFL. Yet in three years in office, Obama has been sacked time and again. The “change” he promised has failed to materialize.
Tebow, in contrast, has brought life to his team, to his adopted city, to the NFL, and to millions of Christians. His wild, unprecedented popularity should tell the Democrats that they had better proceed cautiously. Tebow demonstrates that a lot of people of faith are enthused about the chance to defy the experts and ride an underdog to victory.
There is still a lot of game left to play before Voting Day. Evangelicals, with their relentless passion and their ability to mobilize at the grassroots, have not yet lined up behind a particular Republican.
The Democrats had better start tebowing in the hopes that they do not. The last thing Obama needs is for evangelicals to channel the energy they are putting into supporting Tebow towards the 2012 campaign. If they do, the President may well get blitzed in November.