Why Does Tim Tebow Get to Send Religious Messages in the NFL?

By Hemant Mehta. 

Originally published on December 28th, 2010 at friendlyatheist.com.

You may remember Tim Tebow. He’s the former college football player who tried to convert you with his eyes:


That’s “John 3:16” in the “eye black” used by football players underneath their eyes to prevent glare, during the BCS National Championship Game on January 8, 2009, when he was a quarterback for the University of Florida.

If people think this doesn’t matter, think again: after the game, “John 3:16” became the most popular search item on Google, resulting in 94 million hits.

Once he graduated, the NCAA ended up banning eye-billboards. According to an article in the Christian Post in early 2010, the NCAA Football Rules Committee decided to bar plays from “displaying words, numbers, logo, and other symbols” in the eye black. 

Now, Tebow is a professional football player for the Denver Broncos. But since the NFL already bans eye-black messages, he has to figure out a different way to send his Christian bat-signal, and it looks like he found it!

That’s “Luke 2:10-11” on Tebow’s wrist band in a December 26 game against the Houston Texans (photo taken by John Leyba of the Denver Post). The verse says, “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.’”

As blogger Larry Brown of Larry Brown Sports writes, “You didn’t think something as lame as the NFL dress code could keep Tim Tebow from spreading his faith on game days, did you? Of course not.”

But is he breaking the rules? Looks like it. According to the Florida Times-Union:

… NFL and NCAA rules forbid players from marking their uniforms …

The rule covers the helmet, jersey, pans, shoes, tape, wristbands, and headbands. No writing on any part of the body. Before each game uniform reps—former NFL players—prowl the sidelines looking for violators. When the teams go back into the locker room before the game starts, they are given a list of players who are in violation of the rule.

If they come out for the kickoff without removing the writing, they will be fined. According to Johnny Rembert, the uniform rep in Jacksonville and a 10-year NFL veteran, fines start at $5,000.

As far as I can tell, Tebow has been issued no fine. Yet.

Incidentally, Kenny Britt of the Tennessee Titans was fined $5,000 because the towel attached to his uniform said “#10 VY” — a tribute to Vince Young, whose season ended due to injury. Britt accepted the fine and removed the towel for the second half of the game.

Why is the NFL letting Tebow’s violation slide? Who knows. I would bet you, though, they would immediately fine a player who wrote on his wristband: “There is no god.” Why is there a double-standard when it comes to openly Christian athletes?

Hemant Mehta is the author of I Sold My Soul on eBay and blogs for FriendlyAtheist.com.