Argument: Tebow actually now in more religious yet less Christian city

Since Tim Tebow was traded from the Denver Broncos to the New York Jets, a number of commentators have suggested that Tebow was headed for the secular or even “heathen” city. However, some statistics suggest that the New York City region is more religious than the national as a whole though it is less conservative Protestant:

While New York has a reputation for godlessness, both city and state actually have higher rates of membership in organized religion than the country as a whole. In 2000, the proportion of state residents who belonged to some religious body was 76 percent — compared with 61 percent in the United States as a whole — according to an analysis by Queens College sociologist Andrew Beveridge. Even higher numbers specifically for the tristate region put it in the top 9 percent of urban areas in terms of religiosity, ahead of Salt Lake City and Little Rock.

Still, those who raised their eyebrows about Tebow’s arrival had a point. While New York is very religious, it isn’t religious in Tebow’s way: conservative Protestant. The state has proportionally far more Jews and Catholics than the rest of the country. The percentage of Muslims is only 2 percent — but that’s double the figure in America at large. In contrast, while the national proportion of conservative Protestants is 28 percent, the state population is 5 percent.

So it may not be Tebow’s being religious that raises eyebrows. Rather, it could be conservative Protestantism’s tendency to involve public proclamation. New Yorkers believe just as much, but they are less likely to talk about it openly.

It will be fascinating to see what happens. While the New York City region may be familiar with religion, it is a different mix of religions compared to other places.

The measure of belonging to a religious body could be telling – is this less about religious beliefs and practices and more about the social activity of being a member of a religious congregation or institution? If so, I wonder if this is tied to education levels. Several recent studies suggest that attending church is more common among those with higher levels of education. Other studies suggest that religion is not uncommon or unknown among professors and scientists.

Tim Tebow is America’s favorite pro athlete…with 3% of the vote!

The fact that Tim Tebow is America’s favorite pro athlete may be a great headline but it covers up the fact that very few people actually selected him:

How big is Tebow-mania? According to the ESPN Sports Poll, Tim Tebow is now America’s favorite active pro athlete.

The poll, calculated monthly, had the Denver Broncos quarterback ranked atop the list for the month of December. In the 18 years of the ESPN Sports Poll only 11 different athletes — a list that includes Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and LeBron James — have been No. 1 in the monthly polling.

In December’s poll, Tebow was picked by 3 percent of those surveyed as their favorite active pro athlete. That put him ahead of Kobe Bryant (2 percent), Aaron Rodgers (1.9 percent), Peyton Manning (1.8 percent) and Tom Brady (1.5 percent) in the top-five of the results.

The poll results were gathered from 1,502 interviews from a nationally representative sample of Americans ages 12 and older.

Tebow is the favorite and he was selected by 3% of the respondents? This is not a lot. While it is meaningful that he was selected so early in his career says something but we need some more data to think through this. What percent have previous favorite athletes gotten? Have previous iterations of this poll had larger gaps between the favorite and second-place? Are responses to this poll more diverse now than in the past?

I wonder about the validity of such questions that ask Americans to pick a favorite as they can garner low totals. Isn’t Tebow’s advantage over Bryant easily within the margin of error of the survey? The issues here are even greater than a recent poll asking about favorite Presidents. If you are a marketer, does this result clearly tell you that you should have Tebow sell your product?

Some quick history of the ESPN Sports Poll.

My thoughts about Tim Tebow in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

As Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos get set to play the Pittsburgh Steelers later today, I’m cited in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette discussing why Tebow has gotten so much attention:

The faith of most players and coaches doesn’t get the attention that Mr. Tebow’s has, however. What is it about him that has drawn so much attention and controversy?

One thing may be how visible Mr. Tebow is, said Brian Miller, an assistant professor of sociology at Wheaton College, a well-known evangelical school in Illinois. His practice of singing gospel songs while on the sidelines, taking a knee in prayer at the conclusion of the game, thanking Jesus Christ in postgame interviews and telling reporters “God bless,” before leaving all are hard to ignore.

“I think that ties to his outspokenness,” Mr. Miller said. “Any time someone talks about religion that strongly, people will react strongly.”

By contrast, players like Mr. Polamalu are quieter in the way they signal their faith or discuss it.

“When he crosses himself, he isn’t really talking to anybody, he’s not necessarily on camera,” said Mr. Miller.

The concept of “civil religion” helps explain the reaction to Mr. Tebow, Mr. Miller said. Civil religion is a term used in the sociology of religion field, he said, in which “you can invoke God sort of vaguely in American life” without spurring many objections. Examples would be a politician saying “God bless America” at the end of the speech or the phrase “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.

But “when you get to specifics, like mentioning Jesus,” you have crossed a boundary from the socially acceptable “generic Christian culture” and into the realm where people become uncomfortable, or angry, Mr. Miller said.

Here are several additional thoughts about why Tebow has gotten so much attention:

1. Tebow is a young player and no one quite knows what to make of him: is he legit NFL quarterback? Can he win consistently? Can he replicate or even come close to the success he had in college at Florida? Do the Denver Broncos even want him to start next year or two years down the road? I would guess that since he is young and unproven, other players and some fans might take offense at his outspokenness because he hasn’t earned the right to do this yet. The social norms in professional sports are that younger players have to earn respect. He is not the first to be outspoken about his faith: Kurt Warner said some similar things and yet, while people did complain about him as well, Warner was a Super Bowl MVP and Super Bowl winner.

2. He is the star of the moment. Sports today are driven by stars and in particularly by quarterbacks in the NFL. Since Tebow was winning at one point, he got a lot of attention just as any new quarterback might. The fact that ESPN wanted to dedicate an entire Sportscenter to him says something about Tebow but also indicative of how sports journalism works these days.

Put it all together and it is a perfect storm of sports celebrity. And depending on the outcome of today’s game, the Tebow craze will either intensify (meaning the Broncos win) or slowly fade away (as other teams get more attention moving forward in the playoffs).