sports & religion in the media Maddie, Madi, Michelle, Daniel

How does media portray religion in sports?

tim tebow

“I look at it as a relationship that I have with Him that I want to give Him the honor and glory anytime I have the opportunity. And then right after I give Him the honor and glory, I always try to give my teammates the honor and glory. And that’s how it works because Christ comes first in my life, and then my family, and then my teammates.”

--Tim Tebow

Controversy surrounding Tebow erupted in 2009 over his Christian beliefs and quickly became a national topic of conversation. Tebow has been mocked again and again for his choice to be celibate, displaying scriptures on his eyeblack, and his celebration pose — kneeling, in prayer, which became an Internet meme known as "Tebowing."

A reporter at one press conference asked Tebow if he was a virgin. Tebow replied yes, and the media had a heyday. Reporters blatantly asking about one's sex life has not always been acceptable in society. Just a few generations ago, people would have been appalled to hear such questions on their nightly news. In 1950s television shows, such as I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show, parents were portrayed with separate twin beds rather than sharing a bed. This reinforces the idea of social construct, that society and its ideas are always evolving.

Media still covers Tebow's breakups, especially when they are a result of his girlfriend not accepting his choice to be celibate until marriage. Recently, a dating site offered $1 million to anyone who could take Tebow's virginity. Sensationalizing one's sexuality has become a game for the media to play with society. The only media outlets who speak of any athletes' abstinence in a good light are Christian and LDS publications.

Tim Tebow's devotion to his religion prompted him to write scriptural messages in his eyeblack on game day. Because of the massive negative media coverage of this trademark, the NCAA banned displaying words in eyeblack, which became known as the "Tebow Rule." This is also an example of social construct because religion used to be more acceptable in sports, but now religious beliefs are expected to be separated from sports. Forty years ago, it was common to see fans on televised NFL games holding "John 3:16" signs in the crowd; rarely does that happen now.

When Tim Tebow began in the NFL, the media and sports commentators referred to him as “the worst quarterback in football” and the “Kim Kardashian of sports” for the intense reaction he elicited. Media's reaction to Tebow is almost always either neutral or negative. When Tebow struggled to adapt to the NFL, the tone of the debate around him became more negative, personal, and nasty, indicating that much of media's portrayal of religion in sports is an indictment on religion.

media outlets and social media platforms erupted with criticism or mockery towards Tebow and his beliefs.

brigham young university

"This is a school with an honor code office that enforces not only the LDS ban on alcohol, extramarital sex and coffee, but also restricts shorts above the knee and beards. For many of the world's 12.3 million Mormons, BYU is literally the Lord's university. No other Division I-A football school asks its students to adhere to a standard as strict as BYU's" --Chad Nielsen, espn

BYU's honor code is portrayed as strict and unfair in many national media outlets. It's commonly mocked and ridiculed by those who don't understand Mormon culture. During the 2011 ESPY's, Seth Myers said, "BYU forward, Brandon Davies, was kicked off the basketball team after admitting to violating the school's honor code by having pre-marital sex with his girlfriend. Luckily, his girlfriend goes to Arizona State, so she actually got course credit." College athletes aren't know to abstain from sex, pray, follow a curfew, wear knee-length shorts, and deny beer. Yet, the honor code requires all of this, and more, from student athletes. Society often looks at this as different and directly conflicting with the hegemony of our culture. Although no one is physically forcing college athletes to have sex and drink beer, society will mock those who don't (like BYU athletes) in an effort to maintain the college culture ideology.

While BYU's extreme rules may be mocked, many athletes still stand behind them. Tyler Dunne says this: "Williams chose the school even though he isn't Mormon. He signed its 'Honor Code' and became part of its minuscule black population. He endured the endless double takes—classmates making eye contact, looking away, then slowly turning back to hold a stare for one…two…three seconds. He was once suspended for—gasp!—underage drinking, and he was once exiled for a full season for—the horror!—having sex." Williams' only response to this comment and the honor code was, "When you're mad," he says, "you're like, 'f--k this, f--k that, f--k all of them.' You're mad. But at the same time, you signed the Honor Code. So there's nothing you can really be mad about." In a time when Williams could have rejected everything BYU stands for, the only thing he said was that's what he signed.

“BYU has been getting away with this hustle for years. You have grown men playing against boys, 17, 18, 19 and sometimes 20-year-old. I think this is as foul as it gets, and I think there needs to be a cutoff age for playing collegiate football.” --Desmond Howard, ESPN

There are no rules against having older players on your team and studies show that 26.1 is the peaking age of an athlete. If there is an advantage, then why do other schools not recruit LDS returned missionaries?

Perhaps coaches do not recruit LDS return missionaries because they don’t feel comfortable having heavily religious players on their team. The media contributes to this fear because it has portrayed LDS beliefs and practices in a negative light. Coaches may be hesitant of including LDS players because they are afraid that player’s beliefs will draw negative media attention. If the media depicted LDS beliefs in a positive light, then coaches would be more comfortable recruiting LDS players.

Another reason this has become an issue isn’t because they believe that BYU has an advantage in sports, but because they are uncomfortable with BYU’s unique religious aspect. There are other religious universities, but BYU is unique because religion is heavily involved in the school's sports. Society has become uncomfortable with the idea of mixing sports and religion, but BYU is directly going against this social norm. This ideology has made BYU an easy target to mock.


The current hegemony of society revolves around moral relativism. The dominant ideology has strayed away from moral values, and the media has turned people's lives into tabloid fodder. Media has such a large influence on society that when major media mocks religion, it is acceptable and becomes the standard. National media coverage will always be negative towards religious athletes. The only positive coverage comes from religious publications, yet these minority outlets may never be heard and thus never shape society's ideology.

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