DALLAS — Sitting in the middle of a packed congregation and listening to Dr. Robert Jeffress speak to the gathering at First Baptist Church Dallas on Sunday morning, it quickly grew obvious why Tim Tebow took a pass.The irony is that Tebows decision to skip his scheduled appearance at this mega-church was perhaps the most accurate pass of his NFL career.Tebow skipping out on an appearance to speak at a Baptist church is the clearest sign that the activist athlete officially can be taken off the endangered species list. Its dead. The job is too hard, the headaches too many and the financial risk too great.You know its bad when a professed Christian such as Tebow doesnt feel comfortable at a Baptist church in Dallas.Tebow has this wonderful gift for making people feel comfortably uncomfortable, to spur debate while accepting his critics. He challenges football fans because he is such a brutal NFL passer, and our own beliefs because he is such a passionate Christian.If he takes that away, hes just another handsome NFL quarterback holding a clipboard.Only, in todays world, who can blame him for bailing on this appearance?Jeffress took the first 10 minutes, at least, of Sundays Money Sunday sermon to acknowledge his chaotic week, filled by Fox News, CNN and several sports outlets. The man obviously loved the attention, and used his new fame to spread his message.He never said Tebows name, but there was no need. Jeffress already had cashed in on the publicity generated from the New York Jets quarterbacks scheduled appearance to the ensuing controversy and eventual cancellation.Just as Tebow used football to spread his own personal beliefs about God, Jeffress used Tebow to spread his beliefs, too.This isnt about me, he told his congregation and no one laughed.Tebows decision to bail on the opening of the new First Baptist Church Dallas at the end of April is all about Dr. Jeffress, and specifically some of the comments that he has made over the years in regards to Catholics, gays, Mormons and the President of the United States.If Jeffress never makes such comments, Tebow would never have bailed. If Jeffress never makes those comments, we dont know his name.On Sunday, Jeffress told his audience that his message is one of hope not hate.Not so sure said Catholics, gays and Mormons see eye-to-eye with the good doc on that one. As is seemingly always the case, there is some biblical slaloming going on here. A lot of people agree with Jeffress, as evidenced by scores of AMEN! throughout his opening remarks.We are not going to kneel at the altar of political correctness, he told the congregation as a direct shot at Tebow, which prompted a rousing ovation.I waited in line after Sundays service to introduce myself to Dr. Jeffress, and expressed disappointment over Tebows decision. Jeffress, who was polite, smiled, shrugged and said, You build yourself on not making compromises and then compromise.While I do not agree with many of the statements from this man, its his right to have them. I didnt get the sense sitting among these people that all of his congregation agrees with his words line for line. Theyre just good people trying to do the right thing.We dont know if Tebow shares the same views as Jeffress. What we know is that Tebow thinks merely sharing the same stage is certain PR death.Regardless if you agree or dont with Jeffress, this whole story has a sad element Tebow wanted no part of a platform on which he previously felt so at home. In todays world, there is no room to have a polite, respectful difference of opinion. Apparently not in church.We profess to be comfortable in the discussion but what we crave is that people just agree.There used to be a place in sports for an athlete to stand for something, but the price these days has obviously become too great. The scrutiny and the cinematic hate backlash are too harsh. Stating an opinion, unless it is absurdly populist, has become a giant pain, and the financial risk too much.You wonder how long a Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith, Branch Rickey or John Carlos could have endured in todays sports climate.What I appreciated about Tebow was his willingness to stand by views, even the ones I didnt share. By stating his opinions, he often inspired, or at the least made some people think about a few things they previously may not have considered.By bailing on this appearance at First Baptist, Tebow has taken the first course in the Tiger Woods/Michael Jordan Graduate School of Dont Offend Potential Sponsors.Tebow had an opportunity to express his views, even disagree, with the good Dr. Jeffress.It could have been an interesting, perhaps even enlightening service.Instead, he bailed because there are no more rewards in being an athlete activist.
Mac Engel, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @macengelprof