I keep seeing T. F. Charlton's Jason Collins post everywhere, and with good reason: Tim Tebow is an example of how the public face of Christian athletes, like the public face of American Christianity in general, is overwhelmingly white—despite the fact that black Americans are the racial demographic most likely to identify as “very religious.” A recent Barna poll found that Tebow is by far the most well-known Christian professional athlete in the U.S. (with 83% awareness from the public), with retired white quarterback Kurt Warner a distant second at 59%. Robert Grifﬁn III (RGIII), a black quarterback who’s had a far more successful season with the Redskins than Tebow’s had with the Jets, trailed at 34%. It's a good point, but I don't think it's the whole story.
Last weekend, ESPN fired an editor who posted a racially offensive headline about NBA player Jeremy Lin; the network also suspended an anchor who used the same term. And taking the Lin coverage as a starting point, SNL produced a parody mocking a media double standard: stereotypes about Asian Americans are acceptable, but stereotypes about African Americans are offensive. The Lin media storm exposes the myth of a colorblind society. As much as we want to believe in meritocracy, equality and individuality, we rely on racial assumptions to make sense of the world and those around us. In many cases, the assumptions carry real consequences.
A certain ritual of public witness--thanking Jesus in the postgame interview, praising God for victory, pointing heavenward after a score--has become routine behavior for devout Christian athletes. Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow is the most prominent current example. Another, perhaps different approach--or perhaps not so different--may be emerging with basketball player Jeremy Lin, who in recent weeks burst out of nowhere to become a fan favorite on the New York Knicks.