Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sports and Comicbooks

I’m not a sports fan.  I never have been.  I’m a comicbook geek.  So when a teenager walking around Universal Islands of Adventure this weekend asked me, “As a rabbi, what do you think of Tebow?”  I was forced to answer, “I love it! It has totally changed the way I watch television…”

Once he explained to me the difference between the DVR system and the Denver Broncos quarterback, I still needed some explanation.  Why would you need my opinion on him “as a rabbi”?  What’s so special about him?  What’s a quarterback?

Since the conversation was becoming sports-based and another youth advisor was passionately offering his own opinion, I took it as an opportunity to bow out of the discussion.  Then later I found myself walking with that same advisor.  He tried to bring up football again, and I professed my ignorance.  I told him I don’t understand the obsession so many people have with sports, especially here in South Florida.  I don’t get why people get so into the teams and get so upset at losses and so excited at wins.  Unless they have money riding on the games it just doesn’t make sense to me.  Personally, I would much rather play a sport than watch other people playing, and I don’t even like to do that very much.

He explained to me that for most people sports are what comicbooks are to me.  It is an escape into a fantastical world where super-humans can do amazing things.  He told me that people get as involved with the players and the teams as I do with the characters in the stories I read.  I have to admit, it was the first time anyone has ever explained sports fanaticism in a way that makes sense to me.

So when I got home I decided to look up this Tim Tebow character to try to understand why people are so into him or against him.  According to Wikipedia, he is a Heisman trophy winner—which apparently means somebody Jewish likes him.  He won an ESPY, the Academy Awards of the sports world, for Best Male College Athlete in 2008.  The list of his awards and honors is incredibly impressive.  He was offered entry into the NFL draft in 2009, but he chose to finish college instead.  He was picked up by the Denver Broncos in 2010, where he took the number 15, which has been the best selling NFL jersey since his draft.  He is featured on the covers of magazines and video games, and Marvel Comics even made a superhero out of him.

That all makes him seem pretty great.  Award-winning athlete, popular among fans.  What could be the issue?  Apparently the problem comes on two fronts.  The first is his faith and what could be seen as proselytizing.  He was fond of writing references to biblical passages on the eye black football players use to shade their eyes from sunlight.  After Tim Tebow wrote the words, “John 6:13” on his eye black, the verse got searched 90 million times in 24 hours on Google.  He says a prayer of thanks after a touchdown by kneeling in the end zone—a move now known as “Tebowing,” and which the New York times says when people do it you can’t tell if they are emulating or mocking him.  He also preaches in the Philippines, his country of birth, and supports evangelicals there and in the States.  The other problem people have with him is that he is…get this: too nice.  Supposedly when interviewing or having discussions with people about God, football, or the weather, he is the nicest guy you could imagine.  Frankly I don’t understand the problem with that except that maybe he doesn’t fit in to modern society.

So back to Universal.  The teen asked what I thought about a national figure wearing religion on his sleeve.  I told him It’s way better than the national attention drawn to the non-football activities of Michael Vick or Kobe Bryant.  If a public figure can influence today’s youth in a positive way, I’m all for it.  Moreover, we shouldn’t be afraid to talk to our friends and neighbors, and most importantly our children, about how important God is to us.  If we keep talking about God and how important our sacred tradition is to us, our children will keep paying attention to it.

So this weekend whether you’re watching football or reading comicbooks, enjoy the heroes of entertainment, and celebrate the ones who know there’s something even bigger than them.