I had the chance to interview Austin Murphy, a Sports Illustrated senior writer about his interview and cover story with Tim Tebow a little more than a week ago.
He is in his 26th year at that magazine, where his beats have included the cycling, adventure sports, NHL, NFL and college football. He’s the author of four books, most recently “Saturday Rules,” a celebration of college football, Murphy lives in northern California with his wife and their two children.
He was kind enough to answer these questions shortly after returning from France, where he covered Lance Armstrong’s third place finish in the Tour de France. Although some of his core beliefs don’t line up with many of our readers, he was very open and honest, which hopefully does line up with our readers.
I asked him first first about his personal faith.
“I am one of eight children from an Irish-Catholic family. After some negative experiences with that church as a teenager, I veered far from organized religion, and have been hanging out on the agnostic fringe ever since. I believe in the existence of what the author Don DeLillo describes as some “super-redoutable phenomenon” – an omniscient, all-powerful puppet master pulling the strings in the cosmos. And I’m fairly certain that he or she bears very little resemblance to the fierce, white-bearded God of the Old Testament. I don’t believe there is is one, true faith; one unerring path to salvation. So I end up borrowing from a variety of sources (Christianity, Buddhism, Native American worldviews) as I make my way through the day.”
Was he nervous going into prison?
“Not at all. First of all, it was a medium security facility – these were not the guys from Con Air, although some had committed violent crimes. Too focused on Tebow – and the inmates’ reaction to him – to be anxious in any way.”
His answer about what he learned from Tebow verged on poetry. It was a beautiful answer that made me smile. I followed up with if Tebow helped him with his faith.
“As we age (I’m 48) and navigate the world and come to the realization that some of our lifelong goals will go unmet, there is a natural, inevitable ratcheting down of ambitions and expectations. The beauty, the appeal, the power of Tebow is that he’s not even thinking about compromising on ANYTHING. National title? Let’s get three. Saving souls? Let’s drive up to Death Row. Send me to the Philippines. There is a massive, larger than life energy field around him; he hasn’t figured out that he has limits; that there are certain things he can’t do. This is the province of youth, and one of the special gifts of this extraordinary youth. So I guess that’s not something I learned from him, but it’s something I take from him.”
”As far as helping me with my faith, I’m probably beyond helping. But hanging with Tim has reminded me, on numerous occasions, of the inspirational and restorative powers of Scripture (the Matthew verses from the hours before the BCS title game; Psalms, from his visit to a paralyzed prep player last year).”
Is Tim Tebow for real, is he sincere?
”Tim is perhaps the most totally authentic, unaffected, grounded superstar I’ve ever worked with. Bob and Pam (and his four older sibs) did a fantastic job supporting him, even as they reinforced the point that “It’s not all about you.”
What is the best story or piece of information that didn’t make it into your article?
”Nothing electrifying springs to mind. I do wish there had been more room in the piece to detail the incredible success they’ve had at Lawtey (and the state’s three other faith-and-character-based lockups) driving down recidivism – to 10-or-so percent, from the state average of closer to 40 percent.”
Of course, I had to ask him his reaction to the virginity question.
“My reaction to the virginity question was to a) cringe, then B) admire Tebow, as usual, for the aplomb with which he handled it.”