What if the next big quarterback was everything Tim Tebow wasn’t? A bonafide anti-Tebow. More direct than personable. More self-assured than humble. An atheist — as boastfully irreligious as Tim Tebow is pious. Would the same nation with stadium churches and creationist textbooks be able to embrace the avid non-believer?

Atheists as a whole are one of the more silent minorities in this country. You can believe that the liberal left has started a war on Christmas or feel too much evolutionary science is taught in public schools, but the facts remain: religious groups still hold tremendous amounts of power and influence in America and aren’t threatened too seriously by any backlash from non-believers. Nobody in the national conversation has discussed repealing the tax breaks on places of worship, for instance. And while statistically only 2% of people in America identify themselves as “Atheist”, 9% say they do not believe in God and 16% of us declare to “have no religious affiliation”. This number, too, is probably deflated as many of these surveys use a broad brush when drawing lines between non-religious groups. Some have gone to suffice that nearly 20% of the US population do not participate in religion.

Yet, as some of the numbers indicate, “coming out” and flatly proclaiming one’s atheism can be damning to both social standing and personal relationships. As many as 1 in 5 Americans today may be indifferent to God, but many to most of these people will never describe themselves as atheist.  It’s comparable to the the 30 percent of self-proclaimed “Independents” in this country (only 1 percent of the population didn’t vote Democrat or Republican in the 2008 Presidential election).

Atheism in many ways is different to people than simply being a member of another faith. It thumbs its nose at EVERYONE’S ideas, and while believing in an entirely separate God, tenants, and creation story is essentially the same thing, atheism maintains an inescapable perception of smugness.

It should be noted, too, that race and culture would play a tremendous role in how an atheist quarterback would be received. Given that the NFL is 65% black, and that blacks are statistically more likely to identify with religion than whites, chances are a non-believing NFL player would have a more difficult time than, say, an HR Manager for a racially diverse pharmaceutical company. Compound that with the prevalence of both football and religion in the south and you have a scale heavily tipped against someone of no faith. As a Black American with many family connections in the south, I can attest first-hand to how deeply and directly religion ties into people’s lives. I’ve had gay relatives come out of the closet; I’d imagine someone coming out as “atheist” to be as difficult if not more so in some families.

There would be so many more unfamiliar and uncomfortable roads to cross with a non-believer at the helm of an NFL team. How would his teammates react to his admission? How does an atheist exist in the world of inspirational Jesus-related pregame speeches and post-game prayer circles? Would his own hometown fans even accept him?

What do you think?

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