America’s View of Christian Athletes

Tim TebowThe phenomenal interest surrounding Christian athletes, such as Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow and New York Knicks’ Jeremy Lin, has raised questions about the public’s perception of professional athletes who have a strong religious faith. A recent study by Grey Matter Research finds that when Americans think about athletes who are highly involved in their religious faith, half of them think first about Tim Tebow. Among people who pay a lot of attention to sports, 71% think of Tim Tebow first as a particularly religious athlete, 9% think of someone else, and 20% say no name comes to mind. Among those who pay just some attention to sports, it's 52% Tebow, 22% someone else, and 26% no one at all.  Among people who pay just a little attention to sports, 42% name Tebow first, 13% name another person, and 45% cannot think of anyone else.  Finally, among people who say they pay no attention to sports, 31% still can name Tim Tebow as a religious athlete, while 11% name someone else, and 58% say no one comes to mind. Jeremy Lin’s absence from this list could be explained by the fact that the study may have been conducted before the more recent wildfire of publicity surrounding the NBA’s Lin – a Jeremy Linphenomenon dubbed “Linsanity” by Knicks fans and sports observers.

The names other than Tebow that people mentioned in the survey as being “religious” athletes represented a wide range, including Troy Polamalu, Kurt Warner, Dwight Howard, Josh Hamilton, Steve Young, Drew Brees, Derek Fisher, Albert Pujols, and Darrel Waltrip. People named some long-retired athletes (e.g., Rosey Grier, Reggie White, George Foreman, Cris Carter, Muhammad Ali), athletes from outside the U.S. (e.g., Portuguese soccer star Christiano Ronaldo and Brazilian soccer player Kaká), and even some names that, while certainly well-known, have never been commonly positioned as particularly religious (such as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods, and Lance Armstrong).

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