I had a wonderful conversation with Dr. Darron Smith of the University of Memphis a few weeks ago. He’s recently written a book When Race, Religion, and Sport Collide. In our first discussion, we discuss media portrayals of two Christian athletes, Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin, and how race plays a role in how they were portrayed in the media. Dr. Smith said,
We aren’t conditioned to see Asians as basketball players. We see Asians as mathematicians, scientists. We see them as quiet, meek, humble, some of those qualities that we ascribe to people. We see Asians as being allies, we see Asians as being safe, model minorities. Certainly someone like Jeremy Lin, who is actually southeast Asian. This guy would be the phenomenon that he was, the run that he had a couple of years ago, but he’s continued to do that as time has gone on. It was a perfect set of events that took place that gave him, that catapulted Jeremy Lin to his stardom that he had.
Tim Tebow is the perfect Christian. He’s a white male, wealthy, he’s handsome, a college graduate, he’s an athlete. He’s got all of the things that embodies a football player. He’s a southerner perspective, so in the south, the image of Tim Tebow personifies football.
Tebow is celebrated for his Christianity, and someone like Jeremy Lin, who is also deeply Christian, deeply Christian. I would even argue probably more Christian than Tebow because he’s so humble about it. He doesn’t parade it around, but we weren’t interested in that, with that aspect of his identity, Lin’s identity, but Tebow’s identity, it just fit his identity. That’s the narrative that we typically hear about at least in the South, of what a football player should be, someone like Tim Tebow.
Had you considered that race might play a role in how the media covered these two players?