The God Squad: Tim Tebow, Jeremy Lin, And Religiosity Of Sports | Racialicious – the intersection of race and pop culture

The God Squad:

Tim Tebow, Jeremy Lin, And Religiosity Of Sports

By Dr. David J. Leonard

Among the virtual saturation of Jeremy Lin online has been a poster of him with the words “We are all witnesses.” At Monday’s New York Knicks game, fans donned “black T-shirts that read “The Jeremy Lin Show” on the front” and “We Believe” painted on the back.

Encapsulating the hoopla and hype, while referencing the similar promise that LeBron James brought to Cleveland and the NBA (how’d that work out?), not to mention the spectacle of his meteoric rise, “the witness” iteration illustrates the religious overtones playing through the media coverage.

Since Lin emerged on the national scene while at Harvard, he has made his faith and religious identity quite clear. While refusing to abandon the “underdog” story, Cork Gaines focuses readers attention on his religious beliefs: “But there is more to Jeremy Lin than just being an undrafted Asian-American point guard out of Harvard. He is also a devout Christian that has previously declared that he plays for the glory of God and someday hopes to be a pastor.” Noting how post-game interviews often begin with Lin announcing his faith – “just very thankful to Jesus Christ, [his] Lord and savior” – Gaines uses this opportunity to deploy the often noted comparison that Jeremy Lin is the NBA’s Tim Tebow.

While making the comparison through the Cinderella/overlooked narrative, the media celebration of their faith and evangelical beliefs serves as the anchor for the Lin as Tebow trope. “Tebowmania? That was so 2011. It’s time for a new cult-hero phenomenon: Linsanity,” writes Ben Cohen in “Meet Jeremy Lin, the new Tim Tebow.”

Then there’s their shared religious values. ‘I’m just thankful to God for this opportunity,’ Lin said in an on-court interview Saturday before tweeting, “God is good during our ups and our downs!” His Twitter avatar is a Jesus cartoon. Tebow’s, for the record, is his autobiography’s cover.

Described as Taiwanese Tim Tebow, as resembling “Denver Broncos Quarterback Tim Tebow,” as filling the mold that Tebow “patented,” Lin’s identity (meaning/significance) is ascribed by his connection to Tebow. Tebow defines him.

In “From Unknown To Phenom In 3 Games: Harvard Grad Jeremy Lin Saves The New York Knicks,” Les Carpenter makes the comparison clear: “He is a Christian, vocal in his belief. And because of this and because he is a flawed player proving the experts wrong, people are comparing him to Tim Tebow.” According to Gaines, “Lin and Tebow are not the first athletes to make their faith a key component of their athletic persona. But if Lin, another unconventional player fighting an uphill battle against haters and doubters, continues his spectacular play in The World’s Most Famous Arena, the NBA may soon experience their own Tebowmania. And the fans are already calling it “Linsanity.”

While dismissing the links beyond the uber-hype afforded to Tebow (and now Lin), Bethlehem Shoals furthers the comparison: “Tim Tebow, whose religious views are no secret, probably considers luck the pay-off for faith; Lin is also an enthusiastic Christian. Whether you feel like pushing things in that direction is your business. The bottom line is that, thus far, Lin has been a welcome surprise, a Cinderella story that no one wants to see end.”

The comparison is instructive on multiple levels (see here to understand problems with comparison in a sporting context). Each exists in juxtaposition to blackness. The “underdog” narrative, the focus on hard work and intelligence, and the claims of being overlooked and discriminated against all elucidates the ways in which their bodies are rendered as different from the hegemonic black athletic body.

Religion, thus, becomes another marker of difference, as a means to celebrate and differentiate Lin and Tebow. Whereas black athletes are seen within the national imagination to be guided by hip-hop values rather than religious values, Lin and Tebow practice an evangelical ethic on and off the field/court. Tebow and Lin operate as “breath of fresh air.” Writing about Tiger Woods in Sports Stars: The Cultural Politics Of Sporting Celebrity, C.L. Cole and David L. Andrews argue that Woods’ emergence as a global icon reflected his power as a counter narrative. As “a breath of fresh of air,” his cultural power emanated from his juxtaposition to “African American professional basketball players who are routinely depicted in the popular media as selfish, insufferable, and morally reprehensible.”

Continue reading at The God Squad: Tim Tebow, Jeremy Lin, And Religiosity Of Sports | Racialicious – the intersection of race and pop culture.

Not Another T**** Column: Waking Up from the National Nightmare | The Starting Five

Not Another T**** Column: Waking Up from the National Nightmare

David J. Leonard

I am resisting the temptation to write a column about you know who. As with Charles Barkley, I am sick of hearing about him; I am sick of the celebration and the double standards; I am tired of “the national nightmare” and am ready to wake up to talk about something else within the sports world.

As both men are playing this weekend, I thought I would wish the best of luck to Joe Flacco and Alex Smith. Yes, Flacco was recently described as “mediocre” on Around the Horn and described as one of the “worst quarterbacks on a good team” by The Bleacher Report. Sure Alex Smith is routinely ridiculed, called a bust, and otherwise doubted. What’s not to like about Flacco and Smith

In 2011, Flacco saw a slight dip in his numbers, with a quarterback rating of 80.9 and a completion percentage of almost 58%. Statistically, Smith finished with a higher quarterback rating of 90.7, having completed 61% of his passes. Most importantly, Flacco led his team to a 12-4 record, with Smith taking the 49ers into the playoffs with an impressive 13-3. Of course, you can focus on their struggles and their uneven performances, but “they just win”; all they do is win.” Isn’t that the only thing that matters? I think I heard that sometime before.

As we are in the midst of the NFL playoffs, it is important to remember those great performances. Remember Timmy Smith who ran for 204 yards, leading the Redskins to victory in Super Bowl XXII. So what if he last one more year in the league, and that some call him the one-hit wonder of the NFL, does a great playoff game make a career? I mean Larry Brown and David Tyree also had amazing performances during Super Bowl victories and didn’t they get elevated to national heroes, on the cover of every sports magazine, and the key endorsement for those running for president?

I also want to pay homage to those quarterbacks, who despite having OK or not so good careers were given little opportunity to even be a backup in the NFL. Remember Akili Smith, Dennis Dixon (third string in Pittsburgh), and JaMarcus Russell. Where are they now? You would think a team like the Colts or the Broncos could have used one of them as a backup.

With the King holiday on Monday, I have found myself thinking about politics off-the-field and the history of resistance in sports.

Toni Smith, a graduate of Manhatanville College, used her platform as a collegiate basketball player, to protest the injustices and inequalities of society. Prior to each game, as the National Anthem played, she turned away from the flag, bowing her head toward the floor. She described her motivation as follows: “For some time now, the inequalities that are embedded into the American system have bothered me. As they are becoming progressively worse and it is clear that the government’s priorities are not on bettering the quality of life for all of its people, but rather on expanding its own power, I cannot, in good conscience, salute the flag.” Not surprisingly, her courage and her desire to express her political views were met with condemnation. Told “to leave our country, called “disgraceful,” and other demonized, Smith remains a powerful example of a person who challenged the status quo, who refused to cow-tow to the dominant expectations of her as an athlete, as a women of color, and student. She stood tall and said with her actions that progressive politics have a place in sports.

Continue reading @ Not Another T**** Column: Waking Up from the National Nightmare | The Starting Five.

The Tim Tebow Affect or Celebrating Whiteness? | Loop21

The Tim Tebow Effect or Celebrating Whiteness?

By David J. Leonard and James Braxton Peterson

Tim Tebow is ubiquitous. Everywhere we look, Tim Tebow is there. Whether celebrating his “accomplishments,” attributing the Broncos season to his comeback heroics, reflecting on his now famous on-field genuflections, or debating his treatment by media and fans alike, Tim Tebow has captured the national imagination.

In many ways, the national fascination with Tebow reflects the power of whiteness. Historically the quarterback has been a positioned reserved for white men. Seen as a position that requires intelligence, leadership qualities, and proper mechanics, the NFL has historically engaged in, position segregation, and more than a little bit of Jim Crow on the field. That said, Tebow doesn’t follow in this tradition; he plays the position in a gritty running style that has long been associated with blackness.

In Am I Black Enough for You, Todd Boyd identifies a dialectical relationship between racialization and styles of play where whiteness represents a “textbook or formal” style, which operates in opposition to “street or vernacular” styles that are connected to blackness within the collective consciousness. As such, he describes a hegemonic narrative where “white” players adhere to “ . . . a specific set of rules [that] determines one’s ability to play successfully and ‘correctly’” (1997, p. 115). In both styles of play, notions of intelligence, mental toughness, and mental agility are all at work.

Tebow embodies a vernacular or extemporaneous style that has (historically) been associated with blackness and as a result of this association that same style has been devalued. Yet, for Tebow it has been embraced, celebrated as both innovative and as an example of athletic heroism. The celebration of Tebow, like the praise for some receivers, or safeties, comes from the shock and awe of white success in areas that are generally (assumed to be) dominated by black bodies.

Writing about Jordy Nelson, a white receiver with the Green Bay Packers, Ron Demovsky attributes his success to racial stereotypes: “There’s a joke in the receivers meeting room that Nelson benefits by being the only white receiver on the team because perhaps opposing defensive backs don’t take him seriously.” So while Tebow may only complete a few passes per game, the power in his athletic narrative rests with his ability to play quarterback in a style not associated with whiteness; the beauty for many commentators is in the spectacle and in his ability to convert this style of play into victories.

Continue reading @ The Tim Tebow Affect or Celebrating Whiteness? | Loop21.