An atheist’s case for Tim Tebow

Logically there is no reason why I should like Tim Tebow.

In fact, there is no reason why a lot of us should like Tim Tebow. I know Tim Tebow’s brand of Christianity very well. It’s not an easy one to digest when you know the facts. Tim Tebow’s brand of Christianity holds that if you do not accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior…you are going to hell. That’s right, even though Tim Tebow has never met me, he thinks I’m damned for eternity unless I accept Jesus Christ died for all of our sins.

That’s a rather radical perspective, isn’t it? No matter what kind of life I lead, it’s not good enough according to Tebow’s brand of Christianity. Tebow does a good job dressing up his religion but facts are facts. Tebow believes the Bible is the literal word of God. And as anyone who has read the Bible can attest, the literal word of God is not particularly pleasant.

Furthermore, I’m an atheist. It is my opinion that man created God, not vice versa. I’m a fan of Bill Maher, George Carlin, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and the many others throughout history who stepped up and said “religion is bullshit.”

But God help me I love Tim Tebow.

Perhaps some background information is in order. I spent the summer of 2007 in Fairbanks, Alaska with a baseball team called the Athletes in Action Fire. This is where I was introduced to Tim Tebow’s brand of Christianity. I spent the summer broadcasting their games and traveling with them throughout Alaska. At that time I was rather ignorant of the power Christianity had on people’s lives. Growing up in Seattle I had assumed fundamentalist religion in America was a thing of the past. Yes, some people went to church, but it was more a tradition than any actual belief in a higher power. I had known a few religious people, but they did not subscribe to this brand of Christianity, not even close. Politicians talked about their religious beliefs, but they were politicians, the best bet there was not to believe a word that came from their mouths.

Basically, religious fundamentalism was not something I experienced growing up, so it was not something I really comprehended as a reality in America.

Needless to say the summer of 2007 was a rather eye-opening experience for me.

These guys were the real deal. They also couldn’t have been nicer human beings. I think a few of them were thrilled to have an atheist in their mix to challenge their beliefs. And challenge them I did. I remember one particular discussion about dinosaurs. It’s a tenant of Tebow’s brand of Christianity that the earth was created in six literal days. Not metaphorical days. Literal, 24-hour days. Naturally this brings up the rather problematic issue of dinosaurs and well the entire fossil record. It’s been a few years now but I’ll never forget one of the guys coming up to me after the debate and saying in a quiet voice “hey man, I really think you were making a lot of sense in there.” I wish he’d came to my defense during the debate (30 against one is not easy), but I appreciate the sentiment.

To make a long story short, I couldn’t have had a better time with the AIA Fire. Their mission was to spread the word of Jesus Christ through baseball and that is Tebow’s mission when it comes to football.

And guess what? That’s fine by me.

Would I want some of the friends I made with the AIA Fire running our country? No. But in the context of sports, their religion, no matter how fanatical it may seem to me, is frankly, irrelevant.

What made that group special and what makes Tim Tebow special is that they kept prevailing despite seemingly insurmountable odds.

The Fire were a regular bottom dweller in the league before I arrived in 2007. It’s hard enough to recruit good talent to Fairbanks but when that talent has to be fundamentalist Christian to boot, it’s even harder. The other teams had an almost unlimited talent pool to choose from, not so much the Fire.

But they did it. Of all the players on that team only one that I know of (Kirk Nieuwenhuis) is still in affiliated baseball. A few others got drafted late but didn’t stick. Some of the team’s very best players in my opinion didn’t get drafted at all. They were going up against five other teams who had a number of future high draft picks and yet in the end, it was the Fire who won the title.

How did they do it? I don’t know. It had nothing to do with any higher power but was still one of the most thrilling summers of my life. Two years later I went back and called games for the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks. The Goldpanners ended up having nearly three times as many players drafted as the Fire but finished in the middle of the pack that season in the league.

The Fire were not the most talented team and Tim Tebow is not the most talented quarterback.

But they both embody what I absolutely love about sports. On Sunday Tebow went up against the vaunted defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers finished the season as the AFC’s number one defense. They were loaded with playoff experience and some fearsome talent on both sides of the ball.

Tim Tebow entered the game having completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes on the season. Naturally he carved up the Steel Curtain for 316 yards through the air and three total touchdowns.

All of this defies logic, just like Tebow’s religion.

It’s one of my (perhaps illogical) beliefs that in order to be the best at what you do, you must have more passion than anyone else. I chose baseball broadcasting as my career because I care more about calling baseball than I do anything else. I’m not a natural. I talk too fast at times and my voice isn’t exactly going to make people think of Vin Scully. But I’ll be damned if I let anyone else outwork me at pursuing my dream of becoming a major league baseball announcer.

When I see Tim Tebow screaming “LET’S GO” on the sideline like a madman, it inspires me. His inspiration for his passion may be a belief in a God I don’t believe in, but his passion is genuine. We live in a world of millionaire athletes who certainly want to win, but there are a few special ones who stand out for wanting it more. Their reasons may vary but the results are often the same. Michael Jordan wanted it more because he had an insatiable desire to prove every doubter wrong. Ichiro displayed more passion for winning the World Baseball Classic than he does the average MLB game because his country’s honor was on the line. These guys became the best at what they did through athletic ability AND a passion that was unmatched by their peers.

Being a highly skilled player simply isn’t enough. Tim Tebow has plenty of athletic ability but minimal throwing ability. Do I think he can succeed long-term thanks to his determination to be the best quarterback in the game? I don’t know. He will never be the best in the game but I do think there’s a chance he could develop in to a very solid starting quarterback. I know he’ll continue to outwork his peers.

Every time Tebow wins, it’s not a sign from God. But it is a sign that a fanatical dedication to success can outweigh talent. No one can teach what Tebow has and no one can explain it with statistics.

I asked my friends on Facebook and my followers on Twitter to weigh in why they did or did not like Tebow. The most negative responses related to him “throwing his religion in our faces” which is ironic considering Tebow’s throwing accuracy. (I couldn’t resist.) Look, I think all religious views are silly, it’s just a matter of degree. Tebow’s open displays of his religion don’t bother me because I just see it as part of the show. Sports are entertainment and what’s a better story line than a fundamentalist Christian QB who can’t throw helping his team to improbable victory after victory? Besides, on Sunday it certainly beat rooting for the alternative. Religion being “thrown in my face” is fine. We’re constantly bombarded with messages from the advertising industry every day. Religion is just another product being sold.

Some people take issue with ESPN’s overwhelming positive coverage of Tebow. They think the hype is excessive. Well, I ask you this. When Tebow plays the Patriots, will you be watching? I thought so.

That’s really it though. The only reasons people have for not liking Tim Tebow seem to be his religion and the media hype surrounding him. The former is a rather silly reason to dislike someone personally and the latter is not really his fault.

However, as I said at the start, the fact remains that if Tim Tebow is right about the nature of God, I’m most definitely going to hell.

But in the meantime I’m in heaven watching him defy the odds.

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Baseball, glorious baseball

One day, the final regular season game of the baseball season: September 28, 2011, will go down as the day baseball finally emerged from the Steroids Era. It featured four teams battling for two playoff spots and dramatic finishes that will be remembered for years to come.

The National League Wild Card battle was only the opening act.

The Cardinals took care of business against the Astros but the Braves were three outs away from securing a one-game playoff with one of the top closers in the National League in Craig Kimbrel on the mound. He couldn’t get the job done as he walked three batters and surrendered a sacrifice fly as the Phillies tied the game. The Phillies would go on to win in 13 innings thanks a bloop single from Hunter Pence.

But the American League was where the real drama was Wednesday night. One of the preeminent franchises in the game, the Boston Red Sox, and the little engine that could: the Tampa Bay Rays, were tied entering tonight’s action for the final AL playoff spot.

First the Rays were one strike away from losing their game to the Yankees.

But Dan Johnson, a career 3.3 WAR player who was below replacement level for the Rays in 2011 was at the plate. Of course he homered to tie the game. Did I mention the Rays were down 7-0 at one point? We’ll get there, I promise you.

Then the Red Sox were one strike away from winning their game against the Orioles.

And Nolan Reimold, a player I admittedly had never heard of and a career 2.3 WAR player was at the plate. He was facing Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon, who looked untouchable until he gave up a two-out double to Chris Davis. But still, the right-handed Reimold looked overmatched.

Of course he doubled to right-center to tie the game. And of course Robert Andino, a career 1.9 WAR player, delivered the game-winning hit. It was a low liner to left that Carl Crawford could not catch despite a sliding attempt. His throw home was poor and the Orioles celebrated like they were going to the playoffs.

Of course they weren’t, the Rays were. Only three minutes later, Evan Longoria moved closer to legend status with a walk-off home run down the left field line in the 12th inning to win it for Tampa.

It was Longoria, one of baseball’s brightest post-Steroids Era stars, who delivered the initial body punch in the eighth when the Rays stunned the Yankees with six runs. Longoria’s three-run home run that inning pulled Tampa to within one after having been down 7-0 and seemingly doomed to start the inning.

What made this night amusing for me was seeing the Yankees, bitter rivals of the Red Sox, playing their scrubs. The Yankees had already clinched the East Division so instead of Robertson and Rivera it was the likes of Ayala and Proctor that Tampa had to deal with. It didn’t make the night any less dramatic, just slightly humorous.

Baseball has taken a beating in the national press ever since 1994. The strike killed many people’s interest in the game that season. It was revived during the Steroids Era due to the prominence of the home run, culminating in the epic 1998 clash between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa that resulted in McGwire hitting an unfathomable 70 homers in one season. But as the internet took over the country at the end of the 20th century, attention spans started to go down and Barry Bonds made a mockery of competitive fairness with his 2001 season. The revelation that all those home runs were produced not from smaller ballparks or a juiced ball, but from juiced players, once again killed many people’s interest in the game.

Football has taken over as the king of American sports. Baseball has responded with more statistics, each one more advanced than the rest.

But the beauty of Wednesday night was that it was one of those classic cases where the stats go out the window. Dan Johnson, Nolan Reimold, Robert Andino. Are you kidding me? It was the culmination of epic collapses from both the Braves and the Red Sox, but it was more than that. Baseball has seen epic collapses before but it hasn’t seen a night like this in many a year. Tampa Bay is a wonderful story. In a game that is often dominated by the Yankees and Red Sox, the Rays have made the AL East one of the most compelling divisions in the game the past few years. They only started playing baseball in 1998 in Tampa, and for years they were complete jokes. Their World Series run a few years ago ended those jokes and Wednesday night saw them capture the imagination of the country.

I don’t pretend Twitter is a good gauge of the national conscience. But it certainly is a good gauge of the national media’s conscience, since almost every relevant media member has a Twitter account. And the media can set the agenda for the country. Well, Twitter was buzzing Wednesday about baseball in a way I’ve never seen before. I follow lots of baseball people of course, but being a huge college football fan, movie fan, and my fascination with politics, I follow a fairly wide segment of the population. People I’d never seen tweeting about baseball before were tweeting tonight. The usual tweet? “I normally don’t get very in to baseball, but this is incredible.”

Wednesday night was the night baseball made a statement. Baseball said loud and clear that it will not go quietly into the night. It will not be ignored.

It has risen again.