We’ve talked before on Friendly Atheist about Tim Tebow‘s tempting eyes.
Seriously, who could resist this face? It makes me want to run out and get (re-) baptized.
But once Tebow graduated, the NCAA had to spoil everyone’s proselytizin’ fun by banning messages on eye black, or as it’s called in the official rulebook, “eye shade.”
So where does that leave Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, whose eye black is now in a cross shape?
There are two aspects to this question. The first is what the NCAA rules actually allow. The second, which we’ve been asking ourselves for as long as public figures have been outspoken about religion, is what should be acceptable in a respectful, pluralistic society.
The first is easy enough to answer. Let me just flip open my copy of the 2011-2012 NCAA Football Rules and Interpretations (PDF) to Optional Equipment, Article 6, subsection e:
Eye Shade. Any shading under a player’s eyes must be solid black with no words, numbers, logos or other symbols.
Well, it sounds like Scheelhaase is in a bit of a technical grey area. His eye shade is, in fact, all black, and sports no words, numbers, logos or symbols upon it. It just happens to be in the shape of a cross. Which you may or may not consider a symbol. To me, this seems like a pretty obvious case of respecting the letter of the law while disobeying the spirit. Would the atheist scarlet letter logo garner the same respect? An upside down cross? A swastika? The same problem that existed with allowing white-on-black written messages exists in allowing players to create shapes with their eye black.
As for the second question, the line in a pluralistic society is probably “back thataway.” There’s something to be said for genuine dialogue, but Scheelhaase is using a bully pulpit of athletic recognition to push something totally unrelated and divisive. He wants viewers to take note that he’s not just a football player; he’s a Christian football player:
While he can’t reach an evangelical audience as wide as Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, he still hopes his outspokenness about his Christian beliefs will make people at least consider his views.
“A lot of people watch my moves and watch my actions,” Scheelhaase said. “If I can plant seeds in people, that would be awesome.”
He says he supports open dialogue and talks about how he enjoys conversations with “teammates who worship differently than he does.” But he doesn’t really mean it.
His Twitter feed is filled with Bible verses, and he blocked one follower who asked him to “ease up” on voicing his faith.
Scheelhaase’s face-crosses are a pretty clear-cut violation of NCAA policy, and the restriction should be enforced as it would for any nonreligious symbol. But beyond that, it would be nice if the vociferously religious would quit trying to find ways to push the envelope and play the football game without attempting to push their Christian privilege.
(Thanks to Alex for the link!)