What If Tim Tebow Were a Muslim?

Tim Tebow brought the Denver Broncos back from the dead when he took over as quarterback. Denver is 6-1 since Tebow took over in the top spot. In fact, the once beleaguered Broncos are now 7-5 and are the new co-leaders of the AFC West.

Tebow has been maligned by the sports media ever since he landed in the NFL. They declared him “not ready for prime time.” He has repeatedly proved them wrong.

But there is another aspect to Tebow: His Christian faith. More specifically, his understated public display of his Christian faith on and off the field. Jen Floyd Engel asks, “What if Tim Tebow were a Muslim?”

Imagine for a second, the Denver Broncos quarterback is a devout follower of Islam, sincere and principled in his beliefs and thus bowed toward Mecca to celebrate touchdowns. Now imagine if Detroit Lions players Stephen Tulloch and Tony Scheffler mockingly bowed toward Mecca, too, after tackling him for a loss or scoring a touchdown, just like what happened Sunday [to Tebow].

I know what would happen. All hell would break loose.

The “What if Tebow were a Muslim?” question is not that far-fetched. We have a perfect example of a sports figure who is a Muslim, made public displays of his faith, made it part of his very vocal worldview, and is venerated by today’s media. In 1999, he was named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Century. His name is Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. Many of you who are too young to recognize the name might know him better as Muhammad Ali.

Originally known as Cassius Clay, Ali changed his name after joining the Nation of Islam in 1964, subsequently converting to Sunni Islam in 1975, and more recently practicing Sufism. In 1967, three years after Ali had won the World Heavyweight Championship, he was publicly vilified for his refusal to be conscripted into the U.S. military, based on his religious beliefs and opposition to the Vietnam War. Ali stated, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong… No Viet Cong ever called me nigger” – one of the more telling remarks of the era.

Today, Ali is considered a cultural icon.

The public display of the Christian religion by Tebow controversy is not as heated and controversial as the public displays of the Islamic religion by Muhammad Ali. After his conversion to Islam, Ali would bow toward Mecca and pray in the boxing ring before a bout. Consider this:

Aligning himself with the Nation of Islam made him a lightning rod for controversy, turning the outspoken but popular champion into one of that era’s most recognizable and controversial figures. Appearing at rallies with Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad and declaring his allegiance to him at a time when mainstream America viewed them with suspicion — if not outright hostility — made Ali a target of outrage, as well as suspicion. Ali seemed at times to provoke such reactions, with viewpoints that wavered from support for civil rights to outright support of separatism. For example, Ali once stated, in relation to integration: “We who follow the teachings of Elijah Muhammad don’t want to be forced to integrate. Integration is wrong. We don’t want to live with the white man; that’s all.” And in relation to inter-racial marriage: “No intelligent black man or black woman in his or her right black mind wants white boys and white girls coming to their homes to marry their black sons and daughters.” Indeed, Ali’s religious beliefs at the time included the notion that the white man was “the devil” and that white people were not “righteous.” Ali claimed that white people hated black people.

Compared to the controversy that Ali’s religion brought to sports, Tebow’s is mild. Is there a double standard? Would the sports media make similar negative comments about a sports figure’s Islamic faith? I don’t think so.