Tebow + Political Conservatism


photo-2 (click image to enlarge)

A Wisconsin driver solidified some of my thoughts on Tim Tebow yesterday. Below is an excerpt from my essay on NFL Touchdown Dances. (Coming out in 2014 in University Press of Florida’s Dance and American Culture Anthology).


hail mary pass


  1. a long forward pass in football, as a last-ditch attempt, especially at the end of a game, where completion is considered unlikely.

In 2011, the Global Language Monitor officially recognized the word tebowing as part of the English language.

Tebowing started when people began to post photographs of themselves on the internet in the same kneeling prayer position that quarterback Tim Tebow takes on the sidelines during every NFL game. This consists of dropping one knee to the ground, placing the elbow on the other knee and  your fist at your forehead — a position somewhat reminiscent of Rodin’s The Thinker.

Timothy Richard Tebow was born in the Philippines while his American parents were there doing missionary work. His father is a baptist preacher. The narrative surrounding Tebow’s birth tells that he was expected to die in utero and doctors recommended his mother have an abortion.

As an adult Tebow has become not only an NFL celebrity, but a champion symbol in the pro-life movement. The millions of fans that were tuned in to watch Victor Cruz salsa his way across the end zone in 2012 during Superbowl XLVI  also watched Pamela Tebow discuss the miracle of her son’s life during commercial breaks in a Focus on the Family Advertisement.

As political debates over contraception and religious institutions flared in preparation for the 2012 Presidential Election, Tebow’s gestures on the field became a symbol for the political pendulum’s swing in the direction of social conservatism. Many Christian conservatives cite examples of mandates to remove religious icons, such as the US Army ordering the removal of a crucifix from an Afghanistan Army base chapel, as proof of a homogenized, overly sensitive and politically correct-obsessed society that disallows their freedom to religious practices. So when Tebow prayed in an arena as hyper-public as professional American football, it was a concentrated performance of Christianity in an era when many conservative groups argued that their rights were under attack.

Some sports pundits criticized and questioned Tebow’s NFL readiness and athletic mechanics while his defenders said he was unfairly targeted by the liberal media as a direct result of  his expressions of spirituality. David J. Leonard, Associate Professor in the Department of Critical Culture, Gender and Race Studies at Washington State University  discusses the Tebow issue, and suggests that this argument within professional American football, a historically conservative community, is an attempt to use Tebow’s religious gestures to make him a societal underdog and therefore negate notions of white privilege. This argument seeeks to prove that historically privileged religious groups are now victims of liberalism in post-civil rights America.

 Viewers identify Tebow’s genuflection on the sidelines as a symbol of piety — a marker of a virtuousness and humility. Conversesly, American culture identifies the endzone dancing and celebration, particularly of black atheletes, as something excessive, base and self-serving. This separation is typical of the proverbial mind/body duality prevalent in Western white culture. As it is rooted in Judeo-Christian traditions, the mind exercises control over bodily impulses. So the subdued, non-dancing body symbolizes faith, propriety, and a devotion to religious order. Tebow takes it a step further and uses his genuflect — a movement ordained appropriate within places of worship — to enact his bodily spirituality on-field for the thousands of fans in the stadium as well as for millions of fans in homes across America.