The contrast in the discussion of faith in the stories of two prominant athletes in the news tells us a lot about whose faith we take seriously and whose we ignore.
Where Tebow’s religiosity has been endlessly analyzed by the media and championed by the white religious right, the centrality of Collins’ Christianity and faith community in his decision to come out has been ignored. Collins’ faith hasn’t gotten the attention that his race has—apart from ESPN’s attention-grabbing decision to put Chris Broussard, a sports journalist with known, religiously-motivated homophobic views, on air to directly question him about his personal opinion of Collins’ Christian witness—in the process playing into popular narratives about black homophobia.
As Peter Montgomery notes here on RD, Collins pointedly mentions that his parents “instilled Christian values” in him. He credits “the teachings of Jesus… particularly the ones that touch on tolerance and understanding,” for helping him to accept others (and ultimately himself) unconditionally. In his behind-the-scenes pro?le of how Collins’ historic interview came together, Jon Wertheim writes that the “deeply religious” Collins found spiritual validation for his plans to come out in a “daily prayer manual” that was a gift from his grandmother—speci?cally a passage he read just days before his announcement:
The clarion call of freedom sounds within my soul, trumpeting the truth that the love of God liberates me from unhappiness, hurt, or fear. I bid farewell to any emptiness from the past, and open myself to realizing my heart’s deepest longing and aspiration
For many, there is an unwritten assumption that the faith of Black Americans doesn’t count and doesn’t matter.
…Matt C. Abbott, writing for Alan Keyes’ Renew America, amply illustrates the reality that black Christians—of whatever politics or persuasion—don’t exist in this mindset except as tokens who af?rm the conservative persecution complex. After ?oating the conspiracy theory that Tebow was cut from the Jets because of his beliefs (“an avowed Christian like [him] is someone they enjoy kicking to the curb”), Abbott cites a Catholic priest’s assertion that “there is no spiritual leadership [Collins] has claimed in order to lead him to chastity… [and] a mature sexuality.” This is followed by a lengthy quote from Ken Hutcherson, a black Protestant pastor and former NFL player, including his startling claim that “if anyone speaks against [the homosexual lifestyle and agenda] they will be the one disciplined or kicked off the team for being intolerant.”
This is the world as many on the religious right see it: not one in which Tebow is famous precisely because he’s a mediocre white quarterback who is vocal about his faith, nor one in which Collins and other black athletes who are also “avowed Christians” routinely get passed over by the media and the public—and certainly not one in which gay, lesbian, and bisexual people face systemic discrimination. Instead, they live in a world where Tebow, who according to Barna has a 73% favorability rating with the American public when it comes to his discussion of religion, is being vaguely persecuted for being a straight, white, Christian conservative man.