Google “sports” and “religion” and take a step back.
If you have even a passing interest in the intersection of these topics, you’ll waste a lot of time reading random stories about Troy Polamalu living for four days in a 1,500-year-old monastery with Greek Orthodox monks or how NFL great Reggie White’s Tennessee church was burned to the ground in a likely hate crime.
I know. This was part of my afternoon (fingers crossed that editor Buffy doesn’t read the blog).
Of course, religion is a part of the sports pages these days due to Tim Tebow’s run of success quarterbacking the Denver Broncos. I did a story about Tebow this week and was struck by the devotion he inspires from people who have never met him. My story had no antagonist simply because I couldn’t find anyone who had a problem with him taking his faith onto the field.
In researching Tebow, I came across the story of Billy Sunday. Call him the pre-Tebow. In other ways, he was the anti-Tebow. More on that in a minute.
Sunday was a popular outfielder in baseball’s National League during the 1880s and later became the most celebrated and influential American evangelist during the first two decades of the 20th century.
Sunday quit baseball (he played for the Phillies at the time) in 1890 and soon struck out as a traveling evangelist. By 1910, he was a national figure whose revival meetings were well-attended events.
Sunday made large sums of money, dined with movie stars and met presidents. His personal life was not as happy, however. Although he was never touched by scandal, his sons often committed the sins Sunday preached against and the family paid money to cover up the incidents. His son George committed suicide in 1933. Sunday died two years later.
As I read Sunday’s story, I recalled what Kent Kiefer told me during our interview about Tebow. It didn’t make the story, but Kiefer told me he doesn’t think football is Tebow’s calling. Kiefer, who starred at QB for the Missouri Tigers in 1989 and 1990, said Tebow will play for awhile and then go into the ministry full-time.
“Tim is very content with the fact that the Lord will open up doors for him,” Kiefer said.
And that made me wonder if Tebow will fade from view post-NFL. What makes Tebow famous? Is he a Christian who plays football or a football player who spreads the Christian message?
Bill Sunday was an obscure baseball player who became a famous Christian. Is Tebow following the reverse path?
Give me your thoughts and I plan to write more next week about athletes and religion.
Happy Holidays to you and yours.