Jean Paul Sartre wrote a lot of nonsense, including some bad plays and novels; but every now and again he came up with a brilliant insight. The most brilliant, in my view, is his notion of mauvais foi, or “bad faith.” In Being and Nothingness he develops the idea in interesting ways, though in my view he overstates his case: We watch the waiter in the restaurant, the jaunty way he carries the tray, the way he greets the patrons with a smile, the way he sets the plates before them, etc. We suddenly become aware he is playing at being a waiter! That’s bad faith, it’s what we might call pretense, or playing a role. Sartre was convinced we all do it to hide from the fact that we are totally free (we are not waiters, or teachers, or bankers, or whatever: we are free, in fact defined by our total freedom, and therefore responsible for all the evil in the world. As I say, I think he overstates his case). But the notion of bad faith is a seminal notion and one does become aware of it pretty much everywhere — even in one’s own behavior at times.
When one sees Tim Tebow (about whom way too much has been said and written, but here I go) one suspects right away he also exemplifies bad faith. He is playing a role: pretending to be a man of faith, posturing, leading players on both sides of the line of scrimmage in prayer, genuflecting after the game (which pundits say will henceforth be known as “Tebowing”), and the like. Kids around the country are imitating him. His every movement, when he is not actually playing the game of football, seems to be role-playing. His post-game interviews show him as uncomfortable in the spotlight, with an “aw-shucks” kind of innocence. Surely this is all staged? He’s too good to be true, or so it seems.
I have come to think not, however. I am put off by his in-your-face-faith, it’s a bit too much for my taste. But I do believe he is the real deal. Some of his charitable work also seems a bit staged — visits to churches, schools and prisons. But when the man gave away his signing bonus of $2.5 million to various charities worldwide focusing on genuine needs, such as famine, education, and home building, it was time to cast doubt aside, especially when so many wealthy athletes are spending their money on trinkets or getting another tattoo.
Because I think Tebow is the genuine article, I applaud him for it. It’s a rare commodity these days, and in a sport where so many players are given to violence on and off the field, and where there seems to be a felon hiding behind every goal post, it is refreshing to think there is a player, at least one, whose life is governed by love of his fellow man. I would even go so far as to hope that he is really the genuine article in the game itself: a real star. He certainly knows how to win. He sputters for three quarters and then seems to find a way to win (kind of reminds me of the old Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordon, though they didn’t sputter, they coasted). One cannot argue with his record at this point. And it would be good to see the talking heads on ESPN eat crow. They all, to a man, said he was flawed as a quarterback, his technique is all wrong, he can’t keep calling his own number because his body will not hold up, he makes bad reads, he’ll never make it in the NFL, etc. etc. Yet he keeps winning, and the nay-sayers are scrambling to find something else to say about him.
So, in the end, let’s hope he keeps winning (that his body does hold up, though that’s a good point) and that the “experts” will once again be proved wrong. There are many ways to play the game of football — as there are in any sport — and just because a man or a woman doesn’t fit the mold doesn’t mean they can’t be good at what they do. And Tebow, let’s face it, is good at what he does. He seems to be the genuine article, like it or not.