Tim Tebow Brings Religion To The Workplace

If you haven’t heard the buzz about Denver Broncos’ quarterback, Tim Tebow, you’re either living under a rock or you’re too busy with holiday festivities. The former Florida Gator quarterback who was also the first college sophomore to win the Heisman trophy, the first college player to both rush and pass for 20 or more touchdowns in a single season, and who earned the title of offensive MVP at the 2008 national championship game, is now taking the NFL by storm with his last-minute miracle wins and nontraditional scrappy style of play. And yet people love to hate him. OK, so maybe hate is a strong word. Let’s just say some people seem to find his overt Christian beliefs and demonstrations both on and off the field to be distasteful.

You see, whenever Tebow makes a great play or needs to make one, he – in his own words – “talks to the man upstairs.” He drops to one knee, bows his head, and says a prayer thanking God or asking him for what he needs at the time, which recently included a 51-yard overtime field goal by his kicker to win the game against the Chicago Bears. I must point out that, at the time, it was the THIRD Tebow-led overtime win for the Broncos, bringing their record to 6-1 with him as quarterback. He has engineered five fourth-quarter comebacks. When the chips are down the guy seems unstoppable, and he gives the “Big Coach” in heaven all the credit.

So what’s the big deal? Why do people find Tebow’s prayers and mentions of God, his beliefs and his staunch overt religious overtones so bothersome? Why did two Detriot Lions players find it OK to mock “Tebowing” (as the kneeling-prayer-stance has come to be known) on the field after a big play? Many sports columnists are spouting off their opinions on this confounding issue. Some think it’s the whole puzzling package – his nontraditional awkward style on the field, the fact that he played for the often-disliked cocky Florida Gators, and the religion thing on top of all that. They are just WAITING for the guy to get tripped up, to fail, to finally fall on his face. Others get deeper and think it’s because Tebow makes us all feel uncomfortable by holding a mirror up to our own religious insecurities as he unapologetically and confidently speaks to and about God in every game and interview. Whatever it is, he’s certainly captured the interest of football fans and non-fans alike, as he continues to succeed in a big way on a weekly basis.

As a sports agent, I am fascinated watching the story play out; however, as an attorney, I can’t help but think how this could perhaps turn into a legal issue for the Denver Broncos franchise. What if the Broncos organization got sick and tired of Tebow always talking about God, religion and his Christian beliefs? What if they felt it was bad for business and was a turn-off to the fans? Seems unlikely as long as Tebow keeps over-performing – everyone loves a winner (or if they don’t love him, they tolerate him because he’s winning!) But let’s just say his footwork goes from bad to worse, his shaky running game becomes downright wobbly, and his long load-up time before throws turns into sack-central. Perhaps the “Tebowing” starts getting boos from the crowds, and the chats with and about God in interviews aren’t quite so acceptable. What then?

Now we’re talking about religion in the workplace, a very touchy and heavily regulated topic. According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, workplace discrimination based on religion is absolutely prohibited. The EEOC clearly states that religious discrimination involves treating an employee unfavorably because of his or her religious beliefs. The law protects not only people who belong to traditional, organized religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, but also others who have sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs. Law forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.

The EEOC goes on to say that unless it would be an “undue hardship on the employer’s operation of its business, an employer must reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices. An accommodation may cause undue hardship if it is costly, compromises workplace safety, decreases workplace efficiency, infringes on the rights of other employees, or requires other employees to do more than their share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work.” In the case of Tim Tebow, it is very highly unlikely that the Broncos organization would be able to prove undue hardship. I mean, the guy briefly and humbly kneels to pray for mere seconds. Much less offensive, I’m sure you would agree, than Randy’s Moss’ famous touchdown dance where he pretended to lean over and “moon” Green Bay Packers fans in a 2004 playoff game. What about T.O.’s antics, or those of Ochocinco? Perhaps more amusing, but certainly also belligerent and disruptive.

No, even if the Broncos don’t like it, there is probably nothing they can do about it, so long as Tebow’s beliefs and practices don’t interfere with the job. My modest advice to Tebow: just keep winning! People might find your overt religiousness annoying, but more and more people are finding it charming… and perhaps having God on your side out there on that dangerous field isn’t such a bad idea, anyway. While you’re at it – put in a good word for me, would ya, buddy?

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