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Jason Collins and Tim Tebow: Lessons in being true to yourself

April 30, 2013|By Robin Abcarian

On Monday, two stories captivated the sports world: pro basketball player Jason Collins came out as gay, and the outspoken Christian quarterback Tim Tebow was cut from the New York Jets. 

One man belatedly discovered the value in being true to himself, the other has been true to himself all along.

Will either athlete now be penalized for that?

I doubt it.

But that hasn’t stopped the gears of the culture war from creaking back into action.

On ESPN, commentator Chris Broussard said Collins’ revelation is “an open rebellion to God.”

On the right-leaning website American Thinker, a commentator wrote that Tebow may have trouble finding a new team not because of his dismal record, but because of his religious views.  

I doubt that, too, but I can understand the paranoia. People who oppose gay civil rights are feeling beleaguered right now. History is passing them by, and that can be upsetting.

Tebow has always fascinated me, not because of his controversial skills as a quarterback, but because of his high-profile work as a Christian missionary and anti-abortion activist. OK, and yes, the ostentatious and celebrated kneeling pose that gave us “tebow” as a verb.

When he won the Heisman Trophy in 2007, then became a first-round draft pick for the Broncos in 2010, evangelicals rejoiced that one of their own -- an all-around nice kid committed to spreading the gospel, maintaining his virginity until marriage and thanking Jesus for every touchdown -- had made it in a world of off-field narcissists and libertines.

It’s the same kind of tribal elation many gays are feeling now that one of their own -- an aggressive, foul-prone player who happens to be the antithesis of the fey, gay stereotype -- has come out and added needed nuance to the hypermasculine world of American professional all-male team sports.

In spite of my politics, I happen to be a big fan of the very sly 2010 Super Bowl commercial that starred Tebow and his mother, Pam. 

The ad was sponsored by Focus on the Family, the evangelical Christian group that has waged an incessant war against gay civil rights, gay marriage and abortion.

Tebow’s family has always claimed that when Pam was pregnant with Tim, doctors in the Philippines, where the Tebows were working as missionaries, urged her to have an abortion. Pam refused, and her son grew up to be a strapping, healthy football player.

In the Super Bowl ad, Pam talks about how she almost lost her “miracle baby.” In the middle of her speech, he tackles her. It’s pretty funny, and totally unexpected. The word “abortion” is never mentioned.

Many abortion rights activists have tried to cast doubt on the Tim Tebow miracle birth story, as abortion was a criminal offense in the Philipines at the time of Pam’s pregnancy -- and still is. To me, their family story is not worth fighting over.

What is worth fighting over, however, is the family’s dedication to undermining the rights of women to determine their own reproductive lives, and their tacit denial of gay rights. In a just world, that should have no impact on Tebow’s career. (Although we can’t rule out the possibility that God is trying to send him a message.)

Tuesday at his press conference, President Obama said that he was “very proud” of Collins.

“And given the importance of sports in our society,” he added, “for an individual who has excelled at the highest levels in one of the major sports to go ahead and say, this is who I am, I’m proud of it, I’m still a great competitor … I think it’s a great thing.”

That applies just as much to Tim Tebow and his unfortunate politics as it does to Jason Collins.

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Twitter: @robinabcarian

Email: robin.abcarian@latimes.com

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